Review: Tenderfoot (Drayton Arms)

Bringing Edith Pearlman’s short story to the stage proves a very brief endeavour for director Penny Cherns and actors Aaron Cash and Abi Kessel. Advertised as a 45 minutes one-act show, it came in at 35 minutes and proves fairly impenetrable on first glance.

Paige and Bobby are our main characters. Both have trauma in their back stories: Paige’s we hear in the first scene, which is represented through movement and masquerade; Bobby’s comes later, as he treats the foot spa which gives the play its name as something of a confessional.

By turns erotic, narrative, and ridiculous, Pearman’s story is simply recited, with little dialogue – the theatrical additions of dance and movement, coupled with Geraldine Pilgrim’s sympathetic design, keep the story focused.

Tenderfoot is where Paige attends to the feet of those who wish to be soothed under her ministry. Before partaking of the service, Bobby has taken to watching her from his cavernous bathroom: a voyeur she seems to welcome and appreciate.

Rehearsal photograph of Tenderfoot

There are moments in the story which feel superfluous. The significance of Paige’s poker club of ladies (all last names only and cigars) is never explored. The identity of those graphically described in Bobby’s hidden memory seems to be heading to a big reveal which never happens.

Cash, as a dancer, has appeared in many films including Batman and Titanic. Kessel is, I am not surprised to learn, an intimacy director, so their joint expertise in how bodies flow and fit together adds much to their roles. Even an errant mouse as Bobby’s housemate is conjured up through a flicker of a finger.

No one is directly credited for creating the movement here, but it seems key to appreciating Tenderfoot as theatre, albeit one of such a short duration it feels it requires something more. Perhaps a contrasting story by another author, or another piece from Pearlman’s Honeydew collection.

Tenderfoot continues until 30 April at the Drayton Arms Theatre (near Gloucester Road). Tickets here.

Image credit: Josselyn Ryder