In 1877, Anna Sewell wrote a well-known novel that about the life of a horse. Told from the horse’s own persective, it had anthropomorphc qualities and its own story was delineated by the time it spent with a particular owner or its new occupation. The book was, of course, Black Beauty. As part of So & So Art Club’s Women And War season, one of the many plays that’s being performed takes a similar anthropomorphic approach to its subject matter. Except instead of the story being told from something that’s alive, it’s told from the point of view of bespoke shoes. Magda Goebbels’ shoes.
Playing the right and left foot respectively, Rosa French and Fran Isherwood recall the years immediately following the Second World War. Taken from the ashen feet of Magda herself, they passed through various hands. Just like the different owners in Black Beauty, some treated the shoes with greater care than others, but for the most part the shoes do not like any of their subsequent owners. The reason for their disdain? It is tied up to how they were created and the Tolkein-esque desire of some to covet and desire the shoes – they were made from human flesh and fat from those who died in Auschwitz…
Bearing in mind how they were created and who first wore them, it seems inevitable that the shoes would bear an imprint of the original owner’s opinions and her karmic fate. Repeating without a sense of irony, that as “two-years-old”, they were only “children” and weren’t spared their fate, the truth was in real life Magda helped to kill her own children in the last days of the Reich, to say nothing about the poor souls who provided the physical material to make the footwear…
The play, which is written by Sebastian Majewski and directed by Rasa Niurkaité, can be said to be concentric in structure. Key scenes are repeated, but each time they occur, they go into more detail and reveal the deeper meaning behind what’s already been said. In this sense, it has similar attributes to Gertrude Stein’s Say It With Flowers.
Isherwood and French are on top form, deftly portraying the denial that many in the Second World War had regarding their own role in the culpability of events. Their catty remarks while at times amusing, also more frequently ‘cross the line’ – reminding us that prejudice and hatred continued to take strides long after the War and unfounded opinions can be passed on from person to person.
There’s a saying: ‘Take a walk in my shoes before you judge me’. Well in the case of this play Magda has certainly ‘let her feet do the talking’, but it’s we the audience who are really under scrutiny and the million different ways we may hold on to unflattering points of view.
© Michael Davis 2017
Right Left With Heels runs at Streatham Hill Theatre* on 26th and 30th July.
*Streatham Hill Theatre, 110 Streatham Hill, Lambeth, London, SW2 4RD.