Regular readers of my reviews will know that, while I know very little about dance, I do know what I like. And, someone I like very, very much is Sir Matthew Bourne. I have been enchanted by his work since seeing my first MB show back in 2008. One of the great things is to see a show more than once, and this is the case with The Red Shoes, which I first saw back in 2016 and have just caught as it stopped off at the New Wimbledon Theatre as part of a massive UK tour.
The show tells the story of Victoria Page (Cordelia Braithwaite/Ashley Shaw), a young, highly talented, dancer who catches the eye of impresario Boris Lermontov (Glenn Graham/Reece Causton). Boris has commissioned composer Julian Craster (Harrison Dowzell/Stephen Murray/Dominic North) to create a new ballet based on the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Red Shoes. Boris is a strict disciplinarian for whom art must always come first. Human emotions are not permitted to get in the way and woe betide anyone that falls foul of Boris’ ruthless, indeed dictatorial dedication to dance. Unfortunately, both Victoria and Julian are human beings and, as they work on The Red Shoes, they find themselves falling in love. They try to keep this hidden from Boris but, when realisation hits him, the results are profound for all involved.
Based on the 1948 film of the same name by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, with music from Bernard Herrmann reorchestrated by Terry Davies, The Red Shoes is a charming and entrancing story of love, jealousy and art that, as with all such productions, needs no words to get its narrative and message across. And the story is very strong with its themes of art, love and obsession, not to mention what happens to a person faced with choosing one of two diametrically opposed alternatives. One of which means giving up the love of their life, and the other means giving up the one thing they excel at and which fills their day with joy. The choreography and music really work together to bring every nuance of Victoria’s dilemma out for the audience to see. In this, the show is helped by Lez Brotherston’s wonderful costumes and set which, sometimes with the use of projection, takes us from Covent Garden to Monte Carlo and back. And, as part of the set, we cannot overlook the huge proscenium arch, complete with theatrical curtain, that moves freely around the stage changing and defining spaces. This is particularly effective in the second act when the curtain is used to great effect in emphasising the difference between Lermontov’s Monte Carlo office and the cheap digs shared by Victoria and Julia in London.
There are different casts for different nights and I have named all of the lead players, with the ones I saw in bold in the synopsis above. Obviously, I can’t comment on the other performers playing the lead roles, but I’m sure they will be as amazing as the three dancers I saw this evening. In fact, all of the cast were amazing, and Matthew Bourne really puts them through their paces as dancers. Using a variety of styles – including classical ballet and contemporary, not to mention a “sand dance” that brought back memories of legendary music hall artistes Wilson, Keppel and Betty – to get the story told.
This is my third time seeing The Red Shoes and, as with most Matthew Bourne shows, it has got better each time I’ve seen it. These shows are not static, they evolve and change as times and the dancers move on, so there is always something new to see and appreciate. Whether you have seen the film or not, like the good folk of Wimbledon who gave the production a standing ovation at the end, you will be blown away by this version of The Red Shoes, and will probably end up, like me booking months in advance for the next show from one of the country’s foremost choreographers.
Review by Terry Eastham
Based on the film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale
Music by Bernard Herrmann.
A sell-out before its world premiere tour opened in 2016, Matthew Bourne’s triumphant adaptation of the legendary film returns after winning two Olivier Awards and dazzling audiences across the UK and the USA.
The Red Shoes is a tale of obsession, possession and one girl’s dream to be the greatest dancer in the world. Victoria Page lives to dance but her ambitions become a battleground between the two men who inspire her passion.
Set to the achingly romantic music of golden-age Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann, The Red Shoes is orchestrated by Terry Davies, with cinematic designs by Lez Brotherston, lighting by Paule Constable and sound by Paul Groothuis.
Book Tickets for New Wimbledon Theatre
From Tuesday 10th March to Saturday 14th March 2020.