Written by Edith Pearlman and directed by Penny Cherns, Tenderfoot examines the unlikeliest of connections between an art history teacher who is separated from his wife and a widowed pedicurist who lives by her own rules. The ‘tensions’ between the characters and their former spouses – logic versus intuition, methodical action versus creativity, restraint versus impulse – conform to the archetypal themes that feature in Tennessee Williams’ plays.
It is, however, Tenderfoot‘s themes of passion and expression of the self that also relate to Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes, as the choreographed movements of the characters at junctures convey emotions that are verbally unstated.
As Paige, Abi Kessel is perfectly cast as the lithe and graceful pedicurist, conveying simultaneously (and paradoxically) the character’s ‘toughness’ and vulnerability. As a counterpoint to Paige/Kessel, Aaron Cash’s Bobby is also paradoxically ‘an open book’ and a man with a multi-layered past.
I wasn’t expecting Tenderfoot to be amusing as it is, with its wry observations about the respective characters and the introspective details. The show is faithful to the short story it is based upon. But rather than producing a verbatim account of the narrative, Tenderfoot draws out the essence beyond the surface, in the same way a gifted artist can use stylisation to elicit more of an emotional response than a photograph can.
If I was forced to make a comparison between Tenderfoot with any other play within the last 10-15years, it would be the way movement is utilised in Gary Henderson’s Skin Tight. However, Tenderfoot is very much its own thing – a love letter to short stories with its emphasis on mood and while ‘complete’, leaves us wanting to know more.
© Michael Davis 2022
Tenderfoot runs at Drayton Arms Theatre, London until 30th April.