Pros: Engaging, eye-opening, funny and moving.
Cons: The family links are tricky to keep up with in parts.
In a deeply personal and heartfelt performance, Yang-May Ooi tells stories of the women in her family and explores East Asia’s relationship with feet, femininity and power.
Ooi gives a truly fantastic performance, taking on a broad range of ‘characters’ from her family tree. With a very simple set and no props or costumes, Ooi portrays women of many different ages, from different historical periods and geographical locations. Not only are the character transitions crystal clear to watch, Ooi also manages to make each person recognisable, even when returning to a different point in their respective timelines. As key life events are played out, Ooi beautifully captures the intimate emotions of each character, giving the audience a first person view of their experiences. The dialogue includes phrases which repeat and develop, contrasting graphic descriptions of pain and suffering with humour and tales of love. In my opinion, this gives the play a certain rhythm, keeping the audience engaged from start to finish.
Two central themes of Bound Feet Blues are power and femininity. Ooi specifically explores the change in perceptions between Eastern and Western cultures, as well as between past and current generations. What I found interesting was the way in which all perspectives were given a voice. Foot binding, class systems and sexuality are all explored from different perspectives and the audience are allowed to draw their own conclusions.
In technical terms, the play is very simple. Lighting and music are used sparingly but to great effect. Low, atmospheric lighting is used particularly well, to enhance the tension of certain scenes and I often found myself so engrossed that it was a shock when the lights came back up. Unusually, for logistical reasons, this performance of Bound Feet Blues took place on the set of a separate production running at the Tristan Bates Theatre. The set itself is simplistic, consisting of a ground level space and two raised platforms. As it happens, I felt this structure suited the production perfectly and director Jessica Higgs makes great use of all three levels. Higgs’s movement direction is well crafted, creating an engaging pace but neatly avoiding the feeling of mayhem, which could easily result from one actor playing multiple characters. A good momentum is kept throughout and I felt the eyes of the audience follow Ooi unblinkingly until the end.
As a self-proclaimed ‘work-in-progress’, I felt that the only area for improvement were the links between the characters. Although each character was distinct, I wasn’t always sure how they related to one another. For me, this wasn’t a problem, as each story was complete in its own right but I think the end of the show might have been even more powerful, had I fully appreciated the family links.
Bound Feet Blues is easily one of the most engaging, entertaining and moving one-woman shows I have seen. Moving with equal care, from global questions of gender identity, to everyday family relationships, this play will make you consider what it means to be a wife, a mother, a daughter and a woman.
Writer: Yang-May Ooi
Director: Jessica Higgs
Producer: Eldarin Yeong
Music: Shanghai Restoration Project
Booking Until: 13th October 2014
Box Office: 020 7240 6283
Booking Link: http://tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/whats-on/bound-feet-blues–a-life-told-in-shoes