Here’s a tantalising insight into Phil’s idiosyncratic life:
When he returned from seeing the “song and dance revue” Shoes at Sadler’s Wells his newly-arrived house guest waved a copy of Beryl Reid‘s blithely titled autobiography So Much Love in his face, reminding him of her famous remark that she needed to find the right shoes in order to discover a character.
Now, if you ever meet a Whinger you need only look below their well-turned ankles to realise that footwear is not such a pressing concern to either of them. Andrew is rarely out of his housecoat and fluffy mules. Phil has rarely been seen in anything other than flats since the 1970s put paid to his pelvis and his chances of giving birth.
Shoes comes to us courtesy of Jerry Springer: The Opera co-creator Richard Thomas (writer and composer) and is directed and principally choreographed by the reliable Stephen Mear (who did wonders with last year’s Hello Dolly!).
The problem is that despite the creators’ pedigrees this homage to the cordwainer is not quite the high-class designer stiletto it thinks it is; it’s more a manky, well-worn trainer which should be left out on a windowsill to air in the hope that the smell of cheese might eventually waft away.
Now it’s important to state that although Andrew does a mean Veleta the Whingers do not pretend to be fluent in the language of dance so we speak, not for the first time, from a position of considerable ignorance.
But then again, Shoes is not just dance. This is a series of often brief sketches, some sung, some enthusiastically danced, some sung and enthusiastically danced. It starts with “A Brief History of Shoes” and moves swiftly on, always offering the potential for the next one to be better. Sadly it rarely is. Phil’s favourite (which left Andrew cold) was a well-danced ballet athletically performed on three beds, though how the makers of Hush Puppies will feel about being associated with infidelity is anyone’s guess. Both Whingers greatly enjoyed a tap routine performed in platform boots in spite of the tapping being drowned out by the band.
Which brings us to the sound. If there was any wit going on we would have missed it. The lyrics were frequently inaudible and that’s from the centre of the fourth row stalls.
The brilliant Alison Jiear at least managed to inject some character into her performance, her Evita-ish Imelda Marcos began promisingly then completely flip-flopped, like so many of the songs, thanks to lyrics which were flatter than Phil’s most sensible of shoes. One yearned for Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman to come on and give us their “Kinky Boots“.
Much of Thomas’s work felt like unfinished JSTO business: the juxtaposition of soaring music and prosaic lyrics, the hilarity of lyrics which do not scan or rhyme and it all began to pall quite quickly. “The Ugly Sisters” stretched Cinderella’s slipper less than it did the supposed joke. Nuns incanting about designer shoes (“Desire : The Brand”) ended Act One revealing the Vivienne Westwood logo sparkling beneath their habits. And prepare to roll in the aisle at someone dancing in flippers. Even Sadler’s Wells’ patrons who haven’t demeaned themselves at Sister Act have presumably seen Mamma Mia! Where were the roller-skates? At least the Whingers could have drifted off with happy memories of Xanadu. Act 2 opens with “Vex in the City”. Urg. Ugg boots are, er, ugly. Tee-hee. You get the gist.
Dancing sneakers manipulated by performers clad in black might have worked if the lighting hadn’t been arranged neatly to kill the effect stone dead. The “Salvatore Ferragamo” number threatened to come off but by then it was too late in the show to care. Phil, however, had a trip down memory lane, delighted as he was to see socks worn with suspenders once again and prompting a long-overdue visit to Jermyn Street.
Shoes has the look of an expensive, nay, well-heeled production (despite tacky flats at the sides of the stage and a giant shoe reminiscent of Priscilla Queen of the Desert – The Musical) so presumably they’re hoping it will have a life beyond this initial just-over-a-week run.
Some of the audience lapped it up. Some hated it. Some will hate us for putting the Christian Lo-boot-in and to be fair it was not quite a total Patrick Cox-up. Nor quite total cobblers, but it’s definitely in need of an urgent trip there.
Incidentally, we had actually intended to write this review around lots of poor puns like those in the last paragraph but sadly the show beat us to it and exhausted most of them itself, apart from the one that seemed most apposite: “lame”.