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THEATRE Shoe Lady, Royal Court Theatre London

Compelling account of a woman on the verge of breakdown

THERE’S something deeply frightening about the precarity at the heart of EV Crowe’s new play, an absurdist take on the life of estate agent and harassed working mother Viv.

“I get so scared of how close we live to not being able to live,” Viv tells us. Having lost a shoe from her only pair, she tries to get through her day wearing only one and, as her foot gets increasingly bloody and swollen, her ability to remain anchored falters. But her desire to somehow carry on remains.

The extraordinary Katherine Parkinson is Viv and the nuance of her tone in her moving depiction of Viv’s slow unravelling and her determination to continue, ever more absurd and bizarre, is
wonderful and her reactions to a talking curtain are a delight. They’re also unsettling.

The actor’s subtlety and control allow her to say so much with so little and by the end of the play’s brief 65 minutes the word “shoe” has an explosive resonance. Her existential reflections on the footwear, coupled with humdrum worries about finances, become urgently poetic.

In its more absurd and abstract moments, Crowe’s script is exceptional, but in attempting to explore Viv’s experience it loses its larger impact when it flits between brutal existential philosophy and mundane exposition.

A treadmill is at the centre of Chloe Lamford’s wonderful set and this representation of the impulse of forward movement, even when one needs to stop, is striking and Natasha Chiver’s lighting, playing evocatively with shadows, complements Lamford’s use of space brilliantly.

Those design elements are particularly effective during a Kurt Weill-esque song, typical of Vicky Featherstone’s pleasing Brechtian direction.

Runs until March 21, box office: royalcourttheatre.com

 

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