Theatre Review: Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes

Words: Dom Henry
Thursday 09 March 2017
reading time: min, words

The classic film of an aspiring ballerina’s rise and fall gets the Matthew Bourne treatment…


Bringing a British cinematic masterpiece like the Red Shoes to the ballet stage and doing it any kind of justice is one hell of a challenge, even for dance theatre master Matthew Bourne and his box office Midas touch.

Powell and Pressburger’s gorgeous 1948 technicolour film took Hans Christian Andersons’s fairy tale about a pair of enchanted red shoes that would dance their wearer to death and infused it into the world of creative obsession that is ballet. So, what better way to tell the love torn backstage melodrama and aspirations of a ballet company than through a ballet? Matthew Bourne’s own obsessive insider eye and film buff love for the original lining up for a shot.

The story follows our aspirational heroine, the wide-eyed and flame haired young ballerina Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw), to the world of the Ballet Lermontov where she deftly catches the talent hungry eye of the cool poker faced impresario Boris Lermontov.

Finding her feet in the ballet company, new recruit Vicky is joined by Boris’ second catch, shabby suited music student and score composer talent Julian Craster (Chris Trenfield). Following a lucky break (of the prima ballerina’s ankle) Boris launches Vicky to stardom in his production of the Red Shoes, the ballet within the ballet. Dancing to Julian’s captivating score, Vicky’s rise to fame under Boris art loving eye seems assured, only to fall for Julian in a beautifully cute glow of talent, which serves to threaten all as she is torn between the consuming love for her art and her man, with tragic consequences.

The attention to detail in dance and delivery is jaw dropping throughout, as we discover the colourful Lermontov company characters through a whirl of lively dance and play in their delicious 40s costumes.

The action swirls through stage scenes and views from Covent Garden to Monte Carlo and Paris care of Lez Brotherson’s clever set. Featuring an ingenious revolving stage curtain and surround, which sweeps overhead like a cloak to offer back stage views from all angles with a whirl of lights and curtain. Combined with Paul Constable’s clever lighting, wings slip seamlessly into street scenes, beaches into bedsits, practice sessions to performances. Beautifully cinematic.

The dancing on offer from the New Adventures company is first rate, their rich portrayal of life backstage at the Lermentov ballet throughly engrossing, with lively rehearsals and after hours fun. Including a witty seaside beach ball fitness routine that could be fresh off a 1930s health and fitness poster with its flexing figures, and a deliciously seedy dose of London music hall when the lovers try to survive outside the ballet. Not to mention the final reflective show-within-a-show performance ballet, as love torn Vicky connects with the terrifying energy of the cursed Red Shoes before being driven to her own tragic fate.

This was a cracking show, well worthy of the cheers and standing ovation. If you have landed tickets for this sellout show on its debut tour you’ll be glad you did. If not, fingers on booking buttons for next time.

Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes plays at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal from Tuesday 7 to Saturday 11 March 2017.

The Red Shoes website

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