sun 03/03/2024

Shoes, Sadler's Wells Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Shoes, Sadler's Wells Theatre

Shoes, Sadler's Wells Theatre

Why did a witty man like Jerry Springer's RIchard Thomas do a limp show like this?

Every time I go to Sadler’s Wells now I come out wondering if there’s something wrong with my hearing, so loud and numbing are their speakers. It’s a blight on a lot of shows, but on none more so than Shoes, because this is the first major London production written by that celebrated musical witsmith Mr Richard Thomas since his Jerry Springer, The Opera, and last night I missed probably half the words that I’m guessing should be the chief merit.

So is it fair for me to say how disappointed I am by the production? You may have a better acoustic seat. On the other hand, I’m guessing that a lot of others were underwhelmed too, as I heard some of those giveaway exchanges at the end between couples: “Did you enjoy it?” rather than “Ohmigodwasnthatfantastic”, or the half-hearted killer judgment, “Yeah [beat], it was [half-beat] great.” I wish to be fair. I did notice a smattering of people giving it a standing ovation and screaming last night, but from the vastness of the interval party I deduce the presence of supportive friends, and many people around me were applauding in that okay-night-out way that doesn't betoken a smash hit.

The reason I pay attention to the public reception is that I would lay money that the role of Shoes in Sadler’s Wells' plans is not to startle with artistic merit but to sound the cash registers at the box office. The entire presentation of this show is one of off-West End hen-party fodder, a gluttonous splurge of nearly 30 songs about shoe brands fashioned for easy PR - sometimes (when I could hear the words) with sharply amusing effect. Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo-choo-choo got a jolly amusing advert in the Nuns' chorus, and Christian Louboutin’s iconic black heels with the red sole make an eyecatchingly strange mask, if you’re into stilettos spearing your eye.

Richard_Thomas2Richard Thomas (pictured right) is certainly the best asset of this show but he's picked a disappointingly stale subject and a limp collaborative team. We saw shoe fetishism done more wittily years ago in TV’s Sex and the City, with some spiky stories about how materialism can skew values - at its best when Carrie left her Manolos at the door of a friend with a white carpet, found later they’d been nicked and she’d been left with synthetic high-street, and she then attempted to get compensation out of her friend. That’s much more up the old Jerry Springer street than the cheesy events here.

Here we get episodes of “shoe-fessions” (you can share yours too with the Sadler’s Wells website, an invitation that so far no one has accepted). There is a sneakers-addicted b-girl, and a song about foot infections which nods at Tom Lehrer. The cursed wedding shoes number also has a welcome bite. Still, this is quite small beer, compared to Thomas’s Cattle Call, the dance musical he made for Phoenix in Leeds a couple of years ago. After all, this is Sadler’s Wells, the home of courage and risk. This is the one theatre in London that makes a claim to lead audience taste to dance with marvellous discoveries, or to give a break to exceptional individuals deserving the big time. I'm not satisfied it's happened here.

The staging - with huge video animations and a giant shoe balcony - has evidently had a lot spent on it, but its eager sweet-shop-meets-theatrical costumiers look chimes no resonance with the coolly addictive styling of top shoe dens (and I know a few). The boys are very gay in saucy flesh pants or purple lamé, the girls flock to and fro in spangly shorts and saucer-eyed delight. Most of the dancing, directed by Stephen Mear, is straight out of musical theatre school, tap, synchronised ball gymnastics and very bad ballet.

The two vibrant sopranos are a joy, both capable of pingy operatic coloratura and with personality in spades

I did hear a couple of encouragingly amusing bits of sung dialogue: Boyfriend in designer shoe shop: “Buy something cheaper that looks as good.” Girls, hissing sulphurically, “Ooooohhh!” and whacking the dolt with their carrier bags. And an existential question to ponder: “What would you do if the shoe was on the other foot?”

The better songs sound as if they need some other context to appear in - musicals that haven’t yet been written around them - but I enjoyed the musical side, with a live band and some unusual instruments buried somewhere behind the amplification, while the two vibrant sopranos are a joy to hear, Alison Jiear and Kate Miller-Heidke, both capable of pingy operatic coloratura and with personality in spades. Thomas is a magpie, happily trifling with Monty Python one moment (the funny and silly Uggs dance for sheep, ram and holy Jesus), Poulenc’s Les Carmelites the next (the lusty Nuns). There's a cleverly tempered Bach piano parody for the b-girl acquiring dozens of new trainers, as the fugato multiplies its almost identical voices. And I liked the New Wave jazz (accordions, pattering keyboards, a rather Leona Lewis-style ballad for a lonesome soprano in her Simone Signoret mac) for the lothario in Hush Puppies bedding three girls at once.

Pity that the choreography is so bland, most of it. Of the four choreographers, Kate Prince of Into the Hoods makes "Hush Puppies" a slickly streetwise bedroom farce, and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui handles Thomas’s nasty mind nicely in the wedding shoes number and trots out an unexpectedly involving tarantella in “Salvatore Ferragamo”. The rest is limp, though the dancers worked hard, notably the wiry Aaron Sillis and b-girl Teneisha Bonner.


Hey, mean, mean, mean review. Of course Shoes had to be loud; this is ballet meets musical theatre, meets inventive fun. Come on. Every word was crystal clear and gloriously sung, especially by Adey Grummet, Tim Howar, Simon Gleeson and the magical Kate Miller-Heidke. Yes, classical ballet got the short straw, but that lissom, fluid dance that is the Sadlers Wells imprint had its moments and the sharp moves, especially when expressed by Ebony Molina in her sparkly shorts or her faux Flamenco frills, worked so much better thanks to rigorous ballet training. Shoes isn't just a girls' giggle; it is a witty, wised-up celebration of 21st century big city life. Maybe a tad too long, but different, entertaining, joyful. I loved it.

Sorry I was extremely dissappointed .To me the extreem diversity of shoe designs could have been better reflected in the musical score and equally contrasted in the choreography. As it is only the "trainer " sketches really fulfilled that.O.k it need not have been cliche classical matched with ballet slippers ,Billy Elliotesque stomping with Doc Martins but it just didn't monopolise on the talent that was there and deliver what it promised.A tad long? you could take 2 verses off most songs particularly the "Hush puppie".performance Odd that only 1 or 2 wore the oh so famous wedges during that number and what has "my lovely ass " song got to do with shoes? Go buy yourself the shoes you want instead of watching them!

I completely agree with you Ismene and think your review is very fair - my thoughts are not so forgiving: I just thought it was awful - I went for my little sister's 18th and so wanted to love it - but came out desperately disappointed. I counted many people asleep in the audience and was baffled by the standing ovation and squeals. You make a good point about the sound - I'd forgotten how few lyrics I heard and i suspect they had the potential of improving the show as what I did hear was mostly commendable.

Hi, can't comment Shoes the show but can comment on your views of Sadler's Wells Theatre sound system. As far as I am aware, Sadler's Wells is mostly a receiving house - this means that the majority of shows that they have will be by touring companies and it'll be those touring companies who will provide the set, deal with the lighting and set the sound levels so it'll be those companies wanting it loud. I guess all Sadler's Wells would be allowed to do would be to check that it doesn't exceed any legal limits but the final choice of how it'll sound will be the responsibility of the show staff - same as for the looks, running times, content and the rest of the artistic stuff that goes into a show. This would probably apply to their associate artists as well, I would have thought (if someone knows otherwise and is willing to share ...) That said, I have noticed a trend among shows over the years to make it louder. I guess it's a product of the portable music generation and all the people who have trashed their hearing from years of Walkman and iPod use.

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters