Hen parties will fall head over heels for Stephen Mear’s ‘Shoes’, says Sarah Crompton. Rating: * * *
‘If you don’t like shoes, it’s going to be a very long evening,” sing the cast at the opening of Richard Thomas’s frivolous new revue show. Looking around the auditorium, there was not much danger of that. Even on a wet Monday evening, there are some fantastic and fantastical shoes on display. This is a light-hearted entertainment that has clearly found its audience.
Later, when singers dressed as nuns appear to intone a mischievous litany to the gods of the shoe world – Blahnik, Louboutin, Jimmy Choo – there’s a shared thrill of recognition, a consent to Thomas’s suggestion that “it’s like a religion without the misogyny”. In truth, I think these religious references (there’s also a Jesus-figure extolling Birkenstocks) are there to make composer Thomas (previously responsible for Jerry Springer: The Opera) and his co?lyricist Alethea Wiles feel the show is a little more edgy and dangerous than it really is. It’s witty and tuneful enough, but hardly ground-breaking, though the four singers wring every bit of humour out of it.
But what makes it so enjoyable is its good nature – and the choreography of Stephen Mear. He is one of the best stagers of a tap routine in the business, with a fluency that dazzles particularly in the hysterical “Your Mum”, which combines a mother’s admonitions about dodgy footwear with a troupe of dancers tapping in platform boots.
He is capable, too, of a lovely little piece of story-telling, about a cheating lover who sneaks around in a “classic American lightweight shoe”, and the vignettes where people stagger across the stage in a variety of different footwear, from a clown shoe to a ski boot, are a joy. Mear is ably supported by other choreographers, including Kate Prince, who provides a street dance routine about sneakers – and the contemporary dance maker Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. You’d have thought him too intellectual for this sort of thing, but his “Old Shoes” is one of the stand-outs, with the dancers slithering inside a picture frame, to illustrate a tale of a family heirloom that brings only disaster in its wake.
The personalities of the dancers, their different styles and disciplines – from the charismatic Aaron Sillis, to the fresh-faced tapper Drew McOnie, to ZooNation’s Teneisha Bonner and the elegant Jo Morris, with her background in musicals – add verve and texture.
The hen parties will love it; I predict a hit.