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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Theatre review: Le Soulier runs full tilt in a unique and completely engaging experience

A prime example of French know-how when it comes to definitive theatre

Don’t miss this world premiere of David Paquet’s boundary-stretching play, Le Soulier (The Shoe), which runs until March 9 at Studio 16.  Although it is played entirely in French, it is easy to follow with the succinct surtitles by Leanna Brodie that are screened clearly and unobtrusively above the action.

Paquet’s outstanding script is expertly and imaginatively served by directors Esther Duquette and Gilles Poulin-Denis, at times in stylized dance form and at others in still simplicity.  Exaggerated but never gratuitous movement, directed by Noam Gagnon, contributes hugely to the often surreal overall effect, as does Malcolm Dow’s expansive soundscape.

In fact, the entire crew and cast contribute, full tilt, to a unique, completely engaging experience rarely enjoyed in experimental theatre.

Drew Facey’s wittily adaptable set and stage dressing, as well as his unrestrictive costuming; ltai Erdal’s clever use of lighting to reveal unexpected scene changes; and Aidan Hammond’s efficient stage management each play their part.

But the actors are the front-runners. Félix Beauchamp sustains the rapt attention of the audience, from his impressive display of his physical and emotional range when he awkwardly enters as Benoit – a severely disturbed eight-year-old misfit, fearful of an imminent visit to the dentist  – to his final dramatic moment, witnessed by his mother, dentist and the dentist’s receptionist, in horrified anticipation of what’s to come.

Annie Lefebvre, who compassionately plays Benoit’s wrung-out mother Mélanie, exhibits the exact amount of patience and persistance required to maintain her son’s equilibrium, although she is not above lapsing into her own brand of madness from time to time.  She pirouettes in a delicate balance between coping and losing control with the expertise of a trouper.

Joey Lespérance displays delicious finesse as Benoit’s equally severely, though differently disturbed dentist, whose relationship with plants would make Prince Charles look black-thumbed.

France Perras, as his alcoholic ‘receptionist’ Hélène, who gushes with unconditional love over a deformed animal but whose shrewdness and practicality in other ways saves the day, is glorious.  She has a singing voice to die for as well.

Joey Lespérance and Félix Beauchamp in the Théâtre la Seizième production of Le Soulier. Photo by Gaëtan Nerincx.
Joey Lespérance and Félix Beauchamp in the Théâtre la Seizième production of Le Soulier. Photo by Gaëtan Nerincx.

The woman seated beside me took the words from my mouth when she said she’d never seen ‘rewind’ scenes played to such perfect effect.

Paquet titles his play, The Shoe, because Hélène tells her son Benoit a story during a ploy she uses to calm him down. She says, “So, there’s this shoe.  Not a pair.  One single shoe.  This shoe only sort of works. So for it, some of the simple things, aren’t. Luckily, the shoe is not alone. It is surrounded by people who save it from stumbling. They tell themselves: “Long as I walk beside it, this shoe will never be a half.”

And that sums up the play.  It sums up this production.  It sums up our shared experience as the audience, when we walk beside that ‘shoe that only sort of works.’  It also sums up the message of the play, surely: that if we all look out for the ‘shoes that only sort of work’ we can save them from stumbling too.

Le Soulier is an ensemble piece sans pareil.  It is a must see and Paquet deserves a second Governor-General’s Award to go with the one he earned for his work back in 2010.

Le Soulier by David Paquet. Directed by Esther Duquette and Gilles Poulin-Denis. A Théâtre la Seizième production on stage at Studio 16 (1555 West 7th Avenue, Vancouver) until March 9. In French, presented with English surtitles on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Visit for tickets and information.

[Editor’s note (10 March 2019): this review was edited to correctly identify Leanna Brodie as responsible for the surtitles.]

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