It’s hard to believe that shows written in the 90’s could now be period pieces, but Theresa Rebeck’s 1992 gender-war comedy, Spike Heels certainly feels like it’s part of a bygone era.
Rebeck’s protagonist Georgie is a feisty former waitress, now working as a legal secretary and doing her best to fit into the world of Bostonian yuppies she finds herself amongst. She may not have the upbringing of neighbour Andrew, a professor of political philosophy, but her interest in literature and her feminine charms have allowed her to develop a friendship with the scholar and were the entrée to an introduction that gained her the job with sleazy lawyer Edward.
All three have used their powers to manipulate their triumvirate relationship – Andrew uses his intellectual power to mould Georgie into the type of girl he’d like to marry, Edward uses his position of power to try to coerce Georgie into bed with him, and Georgie uses her powers of seduction to keep the boys in tow.
Essentially, the plot is another take on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, in the era of power heels and the artist formerly known as Prince. But in Rebeck’s version, the wager between the two men is more about who will get to bed the girl, rather than merely passing her off as a member of the upper class.
It all feels a bit implausible and quaint in the manner in which Georgie handles the boys. Perhaps that’s why director Gabriella Rose-Carter has wisely chosen to keep this production set in the era in which it is written, hoping that audiences will excuse the improbable actions of the trio as being products of their time. But it just makes you wonder why this script was chosen for today’s stage in the first place.
When Andrew’s current (and Edward’s former) fiancée Lydia arrives on the scene in the second act, there’s a glimmer that the plot may twist into something unexpected and more interesting, but instead, that 1990s FM breakfast radio classic, the ‘battle of the sexes’ commences and leads to an all too expected and deflating conclusion.
Despite the disappointingly limp script, there are moments of genuinely laugh out loud comedy in this production, particularly when delivered by Nicole Melloy as the spirited Georgie. Boy does this girl know how to land a line – even the most mundane of utterances becomes a whimsical delight once honed by Melloy’s coquettish stylings. Furthermore, she comes up with the goods when asked to convey emotional depth in Georgie.
Michael Robins is perfectly arrogant as Georgie’s slimy boss Edward, a man whose ego is only out-shadowed by his desire to win. Robins carries off Edward’s ‘American Psycho’ tailoring and confidently struts the stage. Whereas university professor Andrew is given a more sheepish demeanour by Anthony Scundi, with an underlying level of devious scheming to make him more interesting.
Andrew seems an uncomfortable character however, but that might have a bit to do with some disappointing direction from Rose-Carter that leaves Scundi sat in an extreme downstage left chair having conversations upstage to characters sat on a sofa. The stage direction is very obvious in this production, with characters seeming to follow flight plans rather than natural courses of movement.
Daniel Harvey’s costume designs work well for placing the action in the 90s and get plenty of chances to be highlighted through the eponymous footwear. In fact, the choice to put Andrew’s buttoned up fiancée Lydia in a more demure wedged heel works perfectly for setting up this smaller character in a short space of time. Further, Lelda Kapsis plays Lydia with lovely restraint, underplaying the vixen that bubbles beneath the put upon good-girl’s surface.
Financial constraints are always an issue for independent theatre, especially for companies only in their first year of production, as is the case here, so it’s pleasing to see Q44 venturing beyond their usual ‘wrong end of Swan Street’ Richmond home, into the more convivial but expensive surrounds of The Loft at Chapel Off Chapel.
Those fiscal concerns will obviously affect a set and lighting budget as well, but they shouldn’t cause a design that makes the space more difficult to use as seems to be the case here, nor the use of noisy lighting better suited to a larger theatre. (The constant on-off buzzing of cooling fans on LED lights is an unnecessary annoyance.) But kudos must be given to Q44 and Crazy Chair for sticking their neck out and bringing their work to where the audiences are.
Despite Theresa Rebeck being famous for creating ‘Smash’, the TV show that brought all the froth and bubble of Broadway to the small screen (then infamously getting shafted off the show in its second season), this play wasn’t the wellspring of that fantastically shiny production. What this version of her first work does have though, are some strong performances that will charm you and jokes that are well delivered. Just don’t expect the story to dazzle you.