Edinburgh Fringe 2017: Did I choose these shoes?
When it comes to poetry, I’ve always worked off the assumption that it was mostly a lonely, solitary affair with one’s notebook on a rainy days; I am not particularly familiar with spoken word - the idea of actually wanting to read out, act out, even remotely enthuse with my soppy rhymes is frankly bewildering. I’m even less familiar with physical theatre, and I’ve rarely ever seen it done well in my mind, mostly being forced in as drum ‘n’ bass filler between flat dialogue scenes; I’ve acquired an unfortunate habit at wincing at its mention.
Did I Choose These Shoes combines these genres together. Written and co-directed by Ella Dorman-Gajic, the production confronts, scrutinises and evaluates the effects of gender roles and expectation on its leading voice. Collections of verse is transformed into dramatic monologue and represented through physical performances by actors - body and voice.
I may be stating something obvious to some readers more familiar with the genre, but in my mind physical theatre can only work when the drama, emotions and conflicts are represented physically, with action, and it must encompass every scene, every line. It is not enough for it to be inserted as set-pieces, fancy cutaways from naturalistic dialogue scenes. Did I Choose These Shoes realises this, and defies this pitfall. I found myself utterly absorbed into the physicality layered with the poetry, moving from frantic to frozen, collected to constrained. From the broad set pieces to the quiet monologues, the direction accounts for physicality affecting the action, creating an engaging and novel spectacle. I particularly reveled in the repeated motifs of robotics, imitation and masquerade. Action and movement, resultingly, becomes emotionally dissonant from the brutal, old faces carrying them out. At times, the repetition of the large sequences became exhausting - I felt if they were taken out of context from the poetry, it wouldn’t have been quite as enjoyable stand-alone. When the choreography pushed into more experimental territory with these motifs, the physical theatre really began to spark into something truly great, and I’d have liked the direction to have seized on this more.
What stood out to me, beyond the aesthetic elements of the show, and what warmed me to this fascinating concept, actually now seems to me simple, a matter of course: Dorman-Gajic believes in the power of spoken word poetry and believes in the drama and emotion within it. The producers, believing with her too, invest body and soul into it, and brought sincerity and visual spectacle to this ambitious clash of genres. Did I Choose These Shoes works as a powerful feminist statement, but it realises something greater: it was a production rooted in emotions and imagery of its text - it is dramatic first, and frankly, it felt real.