|“Walking in someone else’s shoes”
by Amelia Forsbrook on 28/06/10
Abhishek Majumdar’s work, An Arrangement of Shoes, is a one-woman show with a spectacular difference. Set in a small railway colony town in India, the production channels a complex web of different stories, memories and experiences through the single speaker so that, when the performance draws to a close, it is hard not to imagine grandparents and soldiers, film-stars and worshippers all rushing on for the curtain call.
With the time of her grandfather’s burial just a short time away, Rukhsar hunts through a mountain of stolen shoes trying to work out which ones belonged to him. In this debuting production of the work, the truly sparkling Radhika Aggarwal drives the rich monologue of family-orientated Rukhsar through the delightful hour’s performance, spinning a web of identities and belonging, with shoes at the centre.
Through the course of the work, the shoes move from coveted items which reflect an idealised urban life to something deeply symbolic and completely powerful in sculpting the past. By testing out all the stories that go with each and exploring the relevance of personal histories, Rukhsar brings the footwear to life generating a quirky breed of metonymy that sees lost shoes take on the stories of the people who once wore them.
Rejecting the rational view of others, including that of her twin sister, Rukhsar uses the shoes she has acquired to tell her family’s story in a exquisitely creative way, using the footwear as a springboard for a rich and multifaceted narrative. Sometimes, her play with shoes brings out puns as homophones are drawn on for humour and meaning. Using this method, the wedges that make up the links between trains are illustrated by a pretty little pair of wedged sandals so that, with a playfully understated stroke of wit, memory and possessions are visually linked. At other points, the shoes provide the key to meaning as they take on the parts of other props, seen as Rukhsar excitedly chats into the soles, mimicking her family on a telephone. The third, and perhaps most powerful, way in which shoes function as a theatrical device becomes evident as they mimic the actions of those who supposedly wore them so that when shoes collapse off the rack and hang motionless from their heels, we are forced to imagine the unfortunately fate of the people they represent. Standing not only for the individuals whose stories they tell, these shoes also represent the absences; unclaimed, they hint at the loss felt when all is left of a person is their possessions.
As different narrative voices are employed by the solo actor, we are brought into a fascinating voyage of questioning with ancestral identity at the very heart of the expedition. Specific in its time and place, this piece takes us on a fascinating journey in other peoples shoes, broadening the narrative to provide a very familiar womanly voice and a truly warm wit.