Review - Shoe Lady at the Royal Court
The Observer's Susannah Clapp described E.V. Crowe's last play at the Royal Court, The Sewing Group in 2016, as being a "Caryl Churchill-influenced play." Now, in her fourth play for the theatre (but the first to be seen in the main house), Crowe seems to be equally indebted to Samuel Beckett, in this earnest study of a woman hobbling through life on one shoe after her other one mysteriously vanishes, which she only realises as she's going down the stairs at the tube and another woman points it out.
It's not much of a premise, and doesn't hold a lot of dramatic promise, either, to sustain an hour's traffic on the stage. Yet somehow, thanks mainly to the transfixing presence of Katherine Parkinson in the role of Viv, the Shoe Lady of the title, we progress from being perplexed to moved in this quirky Royal Court oddity.
Quite what it is doing on the main house stage, though, is another question, for although there are three other characters - a mute man (who is her partner Kenny), her young child, and a homeless woman who shows her kindness - the play is essentially a monologue. Just as Winnie in Samuel Beckett's Happy Days passes her days by gabbling away as she is buried in sand up to her waist, then up to her neck, so Viv sustains a wild insecurity by talking endlessly about facing life's daily challenges, from bedroom curtains that come off their railings and getting her son off to school to her office relationships, but mostly about that missing shoe.
Along the way, there's an encounter with a fellow worker in the office toilets who silently offers to loan her own shoes to her, and a gradual deterioration in the condition of her exposed foot.
If anyone can sustain the oddness of this enterprise it is Parkinson, whose last London stage appearance was the West End transfer of Home, I'm Darling in which she played a brightly eager housewife trying to put a sunny face on sustaining a different way of living. As in the TV series The IT Crowd, Parkinson is brilliant at combining a perky practicality with an underlying sadness; she brings remarkable weight to this crushing but seemingly slight monologue that transforms it into something memorably strange.