The Red Shoes (Matthew Bourne) Review

Recommended Age: 8+
By: Alice Dallosso
Date: January 2020

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This production was seen at Sadler’s Wells and is touring from 28 January to 6 June 2020.

I go to Sadler’s Wells every New Year to see whatever Matthew Bourne production is being shown. Matthew Bourne’s choreography incorporates some ballet steps but is far more contemporary and innovative than traditional ballets, and his storytelling and characterisation is sublime. I have to say this is the best one I’ve seen. From the moment the music started to the final bows I was entranced by its beauty.

The story is based on the famous and eponymous 1950s film starring Moira Shearer: young ingenue ballerina Vicky Page secures the main role in new ballet The Red Shoes, but then is torn between her love for composer Julian Craster and her desire to be onstage, encouraged by impresario Boris Lermontov. The ballet ends with a shocking tragedy which, if you are taking younger children, you should definitely research and discuss with them before you go.

The demands on the dancers and, I imagine, risks of injury are huge so there is a large revolving cast. We were lucky to have Ashley Shaw as Vicky – what a beautiful dancer she is – plus elegant Dominic North as Craster, and the wonderful Adam Cooper as Lermontov: his is the cameo role of the older Billy at the end of the film of Billy Elliot, dressed as The Swan in Bourne’s all-male Swan Lake. He’s now 48 and still an amazing performer. The whole cast are dancers at the top of their game, with expressive faces and subtle characterisation enhancing the story. The costumes are absolutely gorgeous: velvets, chiffons and silks feature and of course the beautiful red silk pointe shoes that Vicky wears. I had the huge privilege of being in the front row of the stalls on the last night at Sadler’s Wells, and from my seat I could actually read the conductor’s score. I also noticed that most of the women in the orchestra were wearing red shoes themselves! The music itself is dramatic and sweepingly romantic: it’s the original score from the film, with additional sections all written by the same composer, Bernard Herrmann, who also wrote the music for Albert Hitchcock’s films.

The most effective part of the performance for me apart from the dancing, costumes and music was the stunning set. The centrepiece is a Victorian-style ornate gold proscenium arch with dramatically long red velvet curtains, which revolves as the action moves smoothly from front of stage to backstage – Matthew Bourne often uses the idea of a ballet-within-a-ballet as a stage device and this works particularly well in this production. The staging generally is quite stunning, and changes from spectacular to poignant and intimate, enhanced by really impressive lighting.

All in all I cannot fault this phenomenal production: I would go back in a heartbeat.

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