Phil Kay: Give Me Your Left Shoe

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

It’s something every parent’s done when their child starts becoming bored and restless. Whatever lies close to hand is brought into service as a plaything, and a random game spontaneously improvised to distract them.

Well, now Phil Kay has made an entire show out of it. And what a good job it is for him: entertain youngsters for just one hour, then hand them back to the parents.

The idea for this show comes in two parts. The first is obvious from the title – every child in the audience must surrender their left shoe to Kay. They, one by one, or sometimes in small groups, they must compete in some random distraction, often while bouncing on the trampoline centre stage, to win them back.

The rest of the performance space in the big top that is Umbrella Revolution is littered with all manner of odd props, the junk-stall jetsam ready to be brought into play. There’s a flipper over there, next to a deflated Space Hopper, a ski boot, ear defenders and a pair of table-tennis paddles.

Such jumble is a kids’ paradise, and they’re more than willing to leap up on stage for whatever nonsense Kay has planned (or badly planned), even if shyness sometimes gets the better of them when they’re asked to speak into the microphone.

The adults don’t always share that enthusiasm – one sour-faced mum in this audience miserably refused to clap youngsters on to the stage, and despite Kay’s desperate encouragement sat defiantly on her hands the entire hour. A sense of childish fun had clearly long deserted her.

Not so for Kay, who seems in his element. More so, in fact, that in some of his adult shows, where his insistence on always busking with no prepared material too often leads him into desperate blind alleys. Here, with the driving imperative to return all the shoes and the fact there’s always another silly game to turn to, his freewheeling works to good effect.

The children like him, too. With his scraggly beard and unkempt hair, which one volunteer kindly attends to with a toilet brush, he looks weird enough to intrigue but friendly enough to approach. And the nature of a show in which the games can be matched to each child means the age appeal is broad – although about three to 11 is probably the core audience.

And what might they be asked to do? Pretty much anything from acting as a human shoulder bag to trying to put oven mitts on their father’s hands as he scoots past on a skateboard, while Kay squirts him with water.

There’s a Reeves and Mortimer-style surrealism to some of this, which appeals to adults. But this is for kids’ show – and they’re having fun every minute they’re taking part.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
May 2006

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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