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A CurtainUp London London Review

If your shoes could speak they would say - Time wounds all heels. — sung by Damien Humbly
Scene from Shoes (Photo: Hugo Glendinning)
Innovative choreographer Stephen Mear has collaborated with Richard Thomas, lyricist and composer, joint author of Jerry Springer - the Opera, on a musical about that favourite of foot fetishists, shoes! Rather than a musical with a plot Shoes is a series of scenes, a celebration of twentieth and twenty first century footwear — from sneakers, Crocs, Doc Martens to platform shoes, Uggs and designers like Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik. Each scene is devoted to a different shoe and each scene tells its own story.

Four principal singers complement the 14 dancers but in some scenes the dance is accompanied only by instrumentals. The juxtapositions, as we would expect from Richard Thomas, are always witty and fresh. Some examples: the three dances to the sneaker are performed by a street dancer using acrobatic break dance moves which usually performed to hip hop but in this case by classical music and the use of piano or harpsichord which gives the dance an incongruity worthy of those Pinteresque moments of surrealism. The break dance with both legs in the air means the dancer can also wear the sneakers on his hands and the sneaker finale features glow in the dark shoes with black clothed "invisible" dancers. I loved too the Doc Marten scene with two Punk dancers in brilliant pink and tartan trousers (though thankfully not bondage trousers for dance) coupled with two policemen also wearing DMs of the uniform variety, leap frogging over each other and rolling balletically in mock fight. The ballet homage to the DM and love of each other was super.

"Hush Puppies" give us a bed hopping young man (James O'Connell) whose encounters with three girlfriends (Chloé Campbell, Kaisey Johnston and Alexis Owen Hobbs) is sexy and all about desire as they dance attention on him in the three beds he visits. There are comments on health and safety and your mother's advice about the extremes of platform shoes which remarkably the dancers manage to tap dance while wearing. The flip flops "Flip Flop Paradigm" are an excuse for dancers to play by the seaside with giant beach balls dressed in 1930s style strawberry pink knitted bathing costumes and knitted bathing hats with chin straps. Of course it may look like play but it is brilliantly and imaginatively choreographed.

For some scenes the dancers wear neutral corsets and underwear so that the colour and concentration of design can be on their feet. For "The Psychology of Purchase in the Temple of Retail" the balconies are giant shoe staircases with the sling back the hand rail for the singers. "Health and Safety" has the entire cast in yellow stilettos including those with hairy legs, men of course, as lessons are given in how to walk in precarious stilettos, dancers wearing a crash helmet for protection.

"Vex in the City" a play on the television series famed for the lusting after Manolos is danced to bitingly funny lyrics and even Cinderella and Prince Charming get to tell us what life is like after the crystal slipper brought them together. Shoeaholic Imelda Marcos (singer Gemma O'Duffy) shows us some of her collection of thousands of shoes, by way of crime ID photos, numbered and dated. Mock opera comes to the fore in the homage to Hollywood designer Salvatore Ferragamo whose name lends itself to an operatic interpretation.

Hopefully Jesus' appearance in Birkenstocks after his flock of woollies wore fleece and Uggs won't upset the Christian lobby the way they were with Jerry Springer - the Opera and Shoes will entertain many who love to see brilliant dance coupled with good music and fun lyrics! And these shoes won't give you blisters! Shoes is the perfect antidote to the winter blues.

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Written and composed by Richard Thomas
Director and Principal Choreographer: Stephen Mear

Dancers: ChloëCampbell, Matt Clark, Jaye Elster, Mikey Frome, Daniel Ioannu, Holly James, Kaisey Johnston, James O'Connell, Alexis Owen Hobbs, Shaun Paul Smith, Lorraine Stewart, Flik Swan, Jack Wilcox, Jay Wilson.
Singers: Tim Howar, Damian Humbley, Gemma O'Duffy, Jennifer Peers
Swing singers: Patrick Smith Laura Tebbutt
Set by Tom Pye
Additional choreography: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Aletta Collins, Kate Prince, Mark Smith
Costumes designed by Laura Hopkins
Film and animation artists: Tim Hope, Gaële Denis
Lighting: Chris Davey
Sound: Christopher Shutt
Running time: Two hours with an interval
Box Office: 0844 412 4322
Booking to 13th March 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 15th February 2011 performance at The Peacock Theatre, Sadler's Wells in the West End, Portugal Street, London WC2A 2HT (Tube: Holborn)

Musical/Dance Numbers
Act One
  • A Brief History of Shoes
  • Sneaker Addict 1
  • If You Walk A Mile
  • The Psychology of Purchase in The Temple of Retail
  • The Even Distribution of Weight
  • Health and Safety
  • The Stiletto
  • Evolution will not be Televised
  • The Book of Shoes
  • Hush Puppies
  • What Would You Do?
  • Your Mum
  • The Future is Barefoot
  • Flip Flop Paradigm
  • Sneaker Addict 2
  • Desire: the Brand
Act Two
  • Vex In The City
  • Made in Mexico
  • Old Cinders
  • Violently Come Dancing
  • Imelda Argues With the Nation
  • Sneaker Addict 3
  • The Shank Vamp
  • Salvatore Ferragamo
  • The Wrongs Of Summer
  • Old Shoes
  • If Your Shoes Could Speak
  • Red Shoes Breakdown
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