REVIEW: The Red Shoes


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The Red Shoes - Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page


REVIEW: Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes, The Mayflower, Southampton 21 March 2017

Some of us have waited a long time to see this – one of them being Beccy Conway… who was not disappointed!

The Red Shoes
(Ashley Shaw)

Nominated for two Olivier awards, including Best Theatre Choreographer for Matthew Bourne, The Red Shoes is the latest production from Bourne’s New Adventures dance company, following in the ballet-steps of international sensation, Sleeping Beauty.

The Red Shoes
(Matthew Bourne)

Since completing the Tchaikovsky trilogy, Bourne and New Adventures have endeavoured to add other well-renowned stories to the canon of professional dance, adapting such stories as Dorian Gray and Edward Scissorhands.

Based on the 1948 film by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, which in turn was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale, The Red Shoes is a tale of creative passion, ambition, love and jealousy. With a score designed by Terry Davies, using the music of Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann, prepare to be immersed in 1940s London and Monte Carlo, where fame is sought after at any cost.

Ashley Shaw’s performance as aspiring prima-ballerina Victoria Page is flawless; she is both a world class dancer and a phenomenal actor. Sam Archer as impresario Boris Lermontov, and Chris Trenfield as the young composer complete the love triangle with ease. With backgrounds in all forms of theatre arts, it’s no wonder this trio have the entire auditorium enthralled.

The Red Shoes

The same can be said of each member of the New Adventures company, perhaps due to Bourne’s preference for working collaboratively with his dancers when devising new pieces, because every character on stage during The Red Shoes has their own individual personality.

They really capture the tension of life in a 1940s ballet-company, depicting the pressure for each dancer to maintain their position within the troupe. Anjali Mehra’s fall from grace as The Ballet Lermontov’s female lead, Irina Boronskaja, is quite heartbreaking. Liam Mower’s over-the-top depiction of the male lead provides welcome comic relief, as he flounces around during the rehearsal scenes with convincing superiority.

The Red Shoes

The theme of duality runs throughout The Red Shoes. From the scene at Lermontov’s mansion, in which Victoria mirrors Lermontov’s movements as she becomes increasingly enraptured by him and all he can offer her; to the realisation of her dream, when she discovers that the reality of life in the spotlight is not all she had hoped for.

The Red Shoes

Bourne says of The Red Shoes: ‘I have explored how the fairy tale world of a ballet company and the stories it tells can actually blend into the real-life tale of love, ambition and artistic and personal fulfilment, until the two are barely distinguishable.’ This is particularly clear in the production’s tragic final scene when, for Victoria, fantasy and reality finally collide with disastrous consequences.

The set is made up predominantly of a curtained proscenium arch which hangs down over the centre of the stage, and helps to keep the narrative moving forward. The arch acts as a divide between the performers’ lives under the bright lights of fame and the not-so-rosy reality behind the scenes.

The Red Shoes

The New Adventures principal dancers generously take time after the show to answer our questions about the process of creating such ambitious productions. Whilst Bourne has harboured the idea of adapting The Red Shoes for over a decade, we are surprised to learn that the cast only had six weeks in the studio to pull the main choreography together, and that the piece is ever-evolving – a testament to the skill of these performers.

The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes is a far-cry from many of Matthew Bourne’s previous works, but if there’s one thing a Bourne-fan knows, it is to expect the unexpected.

Five stars

(Images: Johan Persson (all show performance images) Dan Wooller, Hugo Glendinning)