The Man in the Woman’s Shoes

Mikel Murfi writes and performs 'The Man in the Woman's Shoes'. Photo: Eithne Hand

Mikel Murfi writes and performs 'The Man in the Woman's Shoes'. Photo: Eithne Hand

Mikel Murfi’s one-man show, The Man in the Woman’s Shoes, is the imaginative product of his interviewing older people in the area of which he is a native. Murfi’s script gives voice to cobbler Pat Farnon, whom the town considers mute. A childhood trauma is hinted at, but Pat prefers to believe the received version of the onset of his affliction – that he is a changeling. Here is a man who lives alone and is self-sufficient, as he casts a philosopher’s eye over local society, wondering why it is that we say that “night falls” but “day breaks”. Pat also has a particular eye for the redoubtable Kitsy Rainey, GAA enthusiast extraordinaire, and the woman whose shoes Pat obligingly stretches by wearing them himself on his five-mile walk into town.

The Man in the Woman’s Shoes is set in October 1978, just after the death of Pope John Paul I whose short reign is the subject of local consternation and speculation. Murfi, who narrates the entire work through Pat’s consciousness, presents us with a vivid tableau of personalities that includes the vertically-challenged water diviner Huby Patterson; a pert waitress of a certain age; an incomprehensible bishop and his self-appointed vocal challenger, athlete Casimir Marshall; an array of farmers all named Gilhooley; and Kemp, a man whose idea of a good time is to direct traffic wherever he may find it. Pat Farnon, his creator Mikel Murfi, and the audience through them, accept all on their own terms. Within the context of the play the world’s assessment of these people is, and remains, irrelevant – a mark of Murfi’s talent.

A physical comedian, blessed with plastic features, and with the vocal range of a ventriloquist, Murfi makes sheep, pigs, dogs, and even bees, come to life, as Pat makes his way into his town and through his memories. As an author Murfi knows how to bring a script to the edge of pathos or nostalgia without tipping the balance, and is on record as baulking at the theatre’s shying from sentimentality as a legitimate emotion. As an actor he distinguishes rural personalities who might in lesser hands seem too similar to differentiate. The smallness of these lives is presented to us with little claustrophobic effect, and small pleasures abound. There is tea and a ham sandwich in the Ritz Café, a weekly treat, or the taste and smell of oranges at the much-anticipated match. All this Murfi accomplishes with minimal props – a pair of men’s boots, a pair of ladies’ court shoes, a shoehorn and a shoebox. There are no costume changes or additions, and there is no set.

There is also a refreshingly positive twist at the end of the narrative – not what we have come to expect of stories concerning rural bachelors. Pat is in for a surprise, and one which will transform his life forever. This bachelor has a brighter future to look forward to, and one which includes a pair of ladies pink slippers under his bed.

Christina Hunt Mahony, who directed the Center for Irish Studies at the Catholic University of America, now lectures in Trinity College. She is the editor of Out of History: Essays on the Writings of Sebastian Barry

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Man in the Woman’s Shoes by Mikel Murfi

1 - 30 May, 2013

Produced by Hawk’s Well Theatre and Sligo County Arts Council Service
In Pavilion Theatre

Written and performed by Mikel Murfi

Touring to 18 venues throughout the country, May 2013, as part of Bealtaine Festival 2013.