The absurdist mantle is an invaluable crutch for this play. It occurs to me that any criticism I should level against it will meet with outcry: ‘You just didn’t get it. The dialogue isn’t banal; absurdism is about trying to find meaning where there is none of be found. The characterisation isn’t thin; absurdism prizes an unsympathetic protagonist. The acting isn’t terrible: absurdism!’
Faults of the cast cannot be confused with tropes of the genre. A situation may be absurd, but an audience cannot be expected to care if the characters’ responses do not conform to any humanity with which we’re familiar. The show advertises itself as a dark comedy but this piece lacks both the Schaden and the Freude. The situations presented are never bleak or poignant and the jokes never funny because we care so little about the characters. Played with pantomime ostentation across the board, their dialogue, saturated as it is with platitudes and reticence, is so unbelievably contrived that one wonders if the actors have any experience of normal conversations themselves.
Pussyfooting tells the story of five friends who all seem to hate each other. The women have cursed feet over which they have no control and gee, they’re such burdens on their bacon-winning men! A boon for feminism everywhere, I think you’ll agree. Taken to the edge of a cliff by errant hooves, Letty begins to get introspective: ‘Maybe we have no control over anything at all…’ Deep, right?
A few scenes later, our resident douchebag Jack evolves into sexual aggressor. He blames his feet, which in light of Letty’s prior comment surely divorces him from any responsibility for his actions. His victim, and the girlfriend who has just caught him, then run off a cliff to leave him free to carry on his sexual perversions elsewhere. I think the script just lent sympathy to sexual assault. Or maybe Letty’s words are a deliberate irony and the play an advocacy of responsibility for one’s actions (an interpretation which, by definition, isn’t particularly absurdist)? So does that make the supposedly palatable character Sophie secretly in favour of her earlier cat-murder, which she, too, blamed on her feet? Such implicit contradictions expose how abhorrently written was Helen Monks’ script as it chased after the absurd, a theory far more complex than she gives it credit by writing some dross about ethereal cliff-diving.
I have a word limit and I’m struggling to contain my ire within its parameters. Yet picture a stage around which the cast dance as they draw the set on chalkboards and say the word ‘fucking’ repeatedly. Congratulations, you’ve just covered half of Pussyfooting! As for the rest, you can probably write it yourself, as long as you remember to keep your characters obnoxious and your dialogue offensive: ‘What did I tell you about being a retard?’