From the childhood moment when we are introduced to Cinderella we recognise the magical, transformative power of the shoe. For many of us this translates into a modern day passion, so it’s not so surprising that when writer and composer Richard Thomas, best known for Jerry Springer the Opera, pitched his idea for a song and dance revue about shoes it took the artistic team at Sadlers Wells less than 15 minutes to accept the proposal.

Hugh Glendinning "Shoes"
Hugh Glendinning "Shoes"

The revue is a shoe lover’s hedonistic fantasy and a luxury marketing director’s dream, with brand references dripping from every line. Combine three familiar faces from TV’s So You Think You Can Dance, Chloe Campbell, Mandy Montanez and Drew Maconie; some Sex and the City style references to retail therapy and a few sequences reminiscent of Strictly and you have the ingredients of a production which will appeal to a mainstream audience of dance fans and provide a great sponsorship opportunity for Grazia.

Shoes is a song and dance revue featuring an eclectic combination of sketches which seeks to explore our emotional connection to shoes. From an amusing routine of frolicking sheep extolling the virtues of Uggs, to the elevation of shoes to the status of a religion, with nuns chanting a list of shoe designers instead of saints this is on the whole a fun and frothy mix. Some scenes though do work better than others.

Richard Thomas’s lyrics lack the edge and depth of his previous work and musically there is little attempt to contrast light with shade, boisterous enthusiasm is the predominant note throughout. A scene which focuses on the short term thrill of spending is presented as a simple to buy or not to buy gender battle. There is no attempt to explore the motivation behind a purchase. And this characterises the central weakness of the show. It fails to explore why we are so fascinated by footwear and what that means. The four singers interpret the lyrics delightfully though, especially Alison Jiear and Kate Miller-Heidke. All of them did well to overcome the challenges of the sound system at Sadlers Wells which seemed overly amplified during the second half.

The choreography by Stephen Mears and his creative team is more successful. The twelve dancers demonstrate boundless energy and real versatility as they sing, act and switch between a variety of dance styles performing some courageous and daring feats on stage. In ‘Hush Puppies’ an unfaithful lover repeatedly visits and leaves the three women in his life presenting Teneisha Bonner, Chloe Campbell, Mandy Montanez and Aaron Sillis an opportunity to elegantly showcase their talents. While ‘Violently Come Dancing’ is a powerful, combustible mix of energy and passion with great performances from Ebony Molina and Jo Morris enhanced beautifully by Laura Hopkins’s costume design.

The glamorous set designed by Tom Pye is reminiscent of Hollywood musicals of the forties with a sweeping staircase to the side and an enormous shoe centre stage which doubles as a slide during the action.

Sadler's Wells deserve credit for starting their new season with a production which will appeal to a broader than average dance audience. Not only will they score points from their funders they should benefit at the box office too, since in my view its highly likely that Shoes will be in the West End before too long. As the opening lyrics suggest, if you don’t like shoes you will find it a long evening. If you do, you will enjoy this carefully crafted confection with a feel good factor of the Mamma Mia variety.

To see what's on at Sadlers Wells click here