Ireland, 1978. Pat Farnon is quietly giving an entire new level of meaning to the phrase “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”. Or at least, he’s quiet on the outside. Inwardly, this man, who is mute and middle-aged who lives alone and repairs shoes in a rural cottage, is alive with chatter and intelligence and jokes.
The Man in the Woman’s Shoes is a one man show. Mikel Murfi treats his audience to 75 golden minutes inside Pat’s head, and each one is revelatory. We follow Pat Fernon as he walks five miles into town to break in a pair of women’s shoes, attends to his various matters of business, and walks home again.
This piece, which Murfi researched and wrote and describes as “nostalgic and purposefully sentimental” is a celebration of the creativity and spirit older people in Ireland. But it’s also a meditation on the importance of putting your noisy, busy life on pause occasionally to listen and take in the world and the people around you. Pat cannot talk so he listens and empathises and reflects – even juicer, he is privy to all manner of secrets from the people of the town.
Murfi’s writing is simple but eloquent, with detailed descriptions of rural Ireland that paint vivid pastoral pictures on the bare stage around him. He makes a gentle and affectionate critique of Irish Catholicism and is similarly amusing in his commentary on the characters of village life. His stream of consciousness gives us an insight into Pat’s head and allows us to see the world through his eyes, complete with ancient folklore and wisdom as old as the hills.
His acting is superb – energetic and multi-faceted with exceptional use of impersonation and mime. Murfi brings a whole farmyard of animals to the stage with only his mannerisms and vocal chords, and he adopts tongue-in-cheek impressions of the people he encounters throughout the day to play out their conversations. Pat’s wry, knowing smile elicits smiles on many faces in the audience and his exuberant physicality provokes plenty of loud laughter.
The play has a whole has a tangible sense of pride and purpose. It has that self-contained element of a very simple yet complete piece of theatre. This is not a play that leaves you feeling restless and questioning – The Man in the Woman’s Shoes understands itself utterly and, in some small way, might even help you understand yourself better too.
Reviewed by Annabel Mellor
Photo: Mark Douet