Touring – reviewed at New Victoria Theatre, Woking
Originally a dark fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, The Red Shoes was adapted for the big screen by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in 1948. It follows a dance company as they tour the world; and the story of two men’s obsession with Victoria Page, a dancer who longs to be a star and becomes possessed by her red ballet shoes.
With multiple locations, sometimes indistinguishable characters and intricate meta-narratives, The Red Shoes isn’t the easiest of ballets to follow, but Matthew Bourne’s production somehow provides a perfect introduction to the art form and takes you on a journey that you don’t want to end, as the continuous flow and incredible emotion keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.
What really elevates this show is the way the story forms a distinction between creating and performing art. We see the process of the dressers and choreographers bringing a vision to life in a structured and unified way; whilst, the performers are intensely frenzied and intense. These opposites come together to create a beautifully enchanting show.
Just like the real world of theatre, what we see on stage is the graceful swan above the water, but what we miss is the underwater kicking of intense rehearsals, quick changes and personal drama. If anything, The Red Shoes is a fantastic reminder and celebration of the hard work, creativity and energy that goes into putting on a great piece of theatre.
Before the show even begins, magic is created thanks to Lez Brotherson’s exceptional design. A luxe red curtain drapes the stage and reveals the varying worlds of The Red Shoes. From monochrome moments to full colour clubs and beaches, every moment feel luxurious and perfectly designed. The costumes are timely and tailored to perfection, with a divine attention to detail that is understated enough to be effective, but not in your face.
When Victoria first dances in her red ballet shoes, she wears a flawless costume that highlights the red and welcomes her as a prima. During act two however, the mental and physical toils she faces are mirrored through the demise of her costume which is shredded and faded. These details are effective beyond belief and make this whole production feel superior.
Bourne’s company is outstanding. Ashley Shaw is of course, technically wonderful as Victoria, but it’s her steely drive and intensity to succeed that make her so enjoyable to watch; especially when contrasted so excellently against her compassion and vulnerability. As Victoria’s lover/musician/muse, Harrison Dowzell is pure joy to watch. The way he flies around the stage, and shows his love for music with a genuine sense of revelry can’t help but bring a smile to your face.
Victoria’s dances with both men are incredibly striking and Reece Causton as Boris Lermontov is utterly shocking. His obsessive and sharp but quiet demeanour is terrifying to witness but completely absorbing. This is a production where you often find yourself holding your breath as it rarely lets you escape from it’s magical grip. The end of act one is one of the most spectacularly effective moments in theatre and really should be experienced.
The entire New Adventures company prove once again why they’re so revered in this glorious looking and exceptionally assured production. The Red Shoes is a must see tale of passion, envy and tragedy.
The Red Shoes plays at the New Victoria Theatre until 8th March before continuing its tour