If Christopher Isherwood’s novel about the rise of Nazism, “Goodbye to Berlin”, was later staged under the name “I Am a Camera”, here we have Francesca Isherwood tackling similar subject matter – but rather than a camera, she takes the role of a left shoe, with Rosa French joining her as its partner. The shoes belonged to Magda Goebbels, and we join them from their appearance at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal – not on Magda’s feet, as she had committed suicide long before then, but the shoes themselves were being tried as, dare I say, accessories. We then follow them through their varied experiences on the feet of several more owners in Soviet-era Poland, rather like the opening montage of the film “Lord of War” which traces the life of a bullet from manufacture to firing.
If personifying shoes seems an odd idea, it’s justified by the knowledge that shoes were made from human skin and fat at Auschwitz – perhaps these two characters are the souls of the two people from whom these shoes were made? (I rather doubt shoes of that kind were worn by the glamorous “first lady of the Reich”, but no matter.) What’s harder to understand is why the performers tell their story twice, the first time in outline form, speaking into microphones that are surely unnecessary in this space, the second time fully fleshed out and acted. I can only assume the intention was that the first, brief, account should give an impression which learning more detail later would subvert, but if so I can’t say it really works, merely detracting from the tension by giving away the ending in advance.
Anyway, the twice-told tale of these curiously long-lived shoes sees them on the feet of Sveta of “the conquering army”, the wife of the doctor who performs her abortion, Helena the ill-educated secret police officer, Magda the victim of her interrogation, before passing to a theatre company – cue fourth-wall jokes about who on earth wastes their time going to the theatre – finally being bought by a transvestite, with a video montage letting us know what era we are in. The show is part of the Women and War EXODUS festival, though I suppose the fate of Majewski’s final character is a reminder that misogyny can also be directed at men considered “unmanly”. It’s also a reminder that, even as we hear the Horst Wessel Lied morph into the Ode to Joy, not all is equally well everywhere in our united Europe, even if it does manage to stay united.
French and Isherwood are strong performers, and you have to give Niurkaité’s production credit for daring and for what it achieves on a shoestring budget. If the result is sometimes a little student-workshoppy – a piece with a title all in lower-case was never going to be entirely free of pretension – it’s never less than engaging.