FOUR performers, four pairs of shoes, and an audience made up of people living with dementia and those who care for them. Those are the basic ingredients of Curious Shoes, created and directed over several years by Edinburgh-based theatre-maker Magdalena Schamberger; and although it is the first show I’ve seen that’s made for, and in consultation with, people with dementia, my guess is that given the growing numbers living with the disease – and the continuing effort to find and joy and meaning in those lives – it will not be the last.
Curious Shoes, Studio Theatre, Edinburgh ****| What The Animals Say, Oran Mor, Glasgow ****
As with Sonic Symphony, the show for children with profound autism seen at The Studio last month, the ultimate success of Curious Shoes will be for its particular audience to judge; but to me it seemed like a beautiful and lovingly-crafted show, based on Schamberger’s observation, over many years, that people with dementia often sit curled looking at the floor, and therefore, when they meet a person, tend to see their shoes before anything else. Here, we have beautiful leading lady Bette in handsome tan boots, her two suitors Fred and Charlie in beige-and-green brogues and shiny black patent dancing shoes, and musician and dancer Vicky in gorgeous red silk pumps; and as the show starts, they first introduce themselves individually to every member of the small audience – we are all on first-name terms here – and then start a lightly sketched story, full of slapstick interludes, songs and dances, about four people going on a journey, getting tied in knots, and – towards the end – also falling in and out of love.
The show adopts a wide-eyed, naive style – like an old silent comedy film of the early 1900s – that I imagine might irritate some audience members and delight others; and at a full hour, it is perhaps just slightly long for a piece with such minimal narrative.
What the audience loved best, though, was the rich sensual texture of the piece – we are invited to help the characters pack and unpack their overnight bags, full of lovely old artefacts and accessories – and the gorgeous quality of Nicolette Macleod’s music, which ranges from quiet accompaniment to exquisite songs, both new and familiar.
It’s striking how dementia patients who struggle to speak can still remember all the words to familiar tunes; and with Christina Liddell, Tim Licata, Colin Moncrieff and Nicolette Macleod delivering four clear, kindly and athletic performances, Curious Shoes emerges as a gorgeous human experience, good to look at and rewarding to take part in, as one of such a friendly crowd.
Meanwhile, this week, A Play, A Pie And A Pint revives a ten-year-old lunchtime play by award-winning playwright David Ireland, whose play Ulster American was one of the hits of last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. What The Animals Say – brilliantly performed by Kevin Lennon and Jordan Young – is like a theatre-of-cruelty precursor of that show, a two-act two-hander in which two former schoolmates from a Protestant part of Belfast meet at the Cairnryan ferry terminal and exchange news about their very different lives, with outrageous consequences, at least for not-too-successful Glasgow-based actor Jimmy.
Eddie, on the other hand, is a successful footballer and a cheerfully human monster of political incorrectness and sheer tribal violence. We worship the power of people like him at our peril, of course; but in Sally Reid’s razor-sharp production it’s hard to resist the sheer energy that’s unleashed, as Eddie takes his chances, and Jimmy emerges soundly beaten and bloody, but still strangely unbowed.
Curious Shoes is on tour across Scotland until 6 July. What The Animals Say has a final performance at Oran Mor, Glasgow, today.