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Bound Feet Blues: A Life Told Through Stories

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by Amelia Jane (subscribe)
Freelance mermaid living in Peckham. It's far from the sea. Love finding free and exciting one-off events around London and telling the world! See my blog
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It's easy to forget feet.

Despite the fact they're the most reliable mode of transport, keep us upright and connect us to the earth, we rarely think of them. We take them as a given until they cause us discomfort - it's amazing how miserable people become when caught in the rain in canvas plimsolls, or after eight hours in new shoes.

However, as writer and storyteller, Yang-May Ooi explores in her latest work Bound Feet Blues: A Life Told In Shoes, our feet and how we confine them, impacts on how we value ourselves and how others perceive us.

yang may ooi

Described as a "coming out story", Ooi shared the shoes of her past, from the painful Kurt Geiger heels she wore to the Oxford Ball in her university days that commanded attention from passing men, to the boy's footwear she loved to storm about in as a child, angering her extended family.

Ooi uses shoes as a springboard into her discussion of gender and cultural identity. She shares the stories of her past through physical means, taking on the shape and manners of her mother and grandmother as well as herself as an eight year old growing up in Malaysia, a young professional in London and a debutante in Oxford.

yang may ooi, tristan bates, bound feet blues, london, theatre

Such personal accounts make for engaging viewing. While the practise of foot binding isn't necessarily unknown to the rest of the world, few may have heard such close and emotive insight. Ooi's grandmother was chosen out of three daughters to have her feet bound, giving her the opportunity for a comfortable future. Later on, Ooi describes the procedure, actively from the point of view of a mother binding her daughter's feet and the contrasting feelings that emerge.

Ooi's exploration of binary concepts is also compelling. She invites the reader to question how the painful practice of foot binding that practically disables a woman, can empower her - those with the most crushed feet known as "golden lotus feet" can anticipate the most desirable lifestyle provided by a wealthy husband. Ooi also suggests the power such a wife has over her husband, who finding such feet so attractive would literally worship the ground she walks (or crawls) on. This presentation of shoes contrasts beautifully with the power Ooi feels in walking boots in Australia where she realises her feelings for her best friend and they are both on an equal plain.

yang may ooi, tristan bates, bound feet blues, london, theatre

Shoes pose other questions - the confusion an eight-year old Ooi felt when wearing boys shoes, running free and playing the part of the oldest son, believing her family would be pleased. So why are they ashamed and angry? Why as a young lawyer were expensive Gucci loafers and tassled wedges important in presenting the right image? Why in the West, women cannot understand bound feet aesthetically, and yet some choose to forgo surgery, pumping themselves with silicon, and having body parts enlarged or reduced.

While the themes presented were thought provoking, perhaps what was lacking was a more original execution than simple storytelling. There were some big ideas presented and at points, and no matter how hard Ooi tried to change her physicality, accent and pace, her overall dynamic wasn't pushed far enough to challenge the audience.

And while Ooi was going for minimal stage interference in terms of set and props, at times, it would have been great to see a use of tangible objects, like shoes, engaged with to help aid the performance.

Bound Feet Blues: A Life Told Through Stories
Tristan Bates Theatre
Tue 24 Nov - Sat 12 Dec, Tue - Sat at 7.30pm.
Tickets 16 / 12 concessions.
Q&As post-show, 27 Nov & 4 Dec.
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Why? For thought provoking theatre
When: Until 12 December
Phone: 020 7240 6283
Where: Tristan Bates, London
Cost: 16
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