Sadler’s Wells, London
December 12, 2019
Returning to Sadler’s Wells, Matthew Bourne’s award-winning production, The Red Shoes is larger than life. It remains truthful to the original 1948 film, yet still allows for its own eccentricities, humour and uniqueness.
The first act sets the scene in London, with the dancers waltzing and turning elegantly alongside one another. The women perform in glittering dresses, holding large fans as they dance. The costumes throughout are sumptuous.
The visuals and set are exceedingly clever with a rotating proscenium arch that swivels between front stage and back stage. This allows the cast to play audience members in their very own theatre. The production is accompanied by a moving and dramatic score from Hollywood Golden Age composer Bernard Herrmann, performed beautifully by the orchestra.
The storyline is clear and relatively simple to follow. A talented ballet dancer, Victoria Page, is torn between her love for composer Julian Craster and her love for dance. The latter being fuelled by ballet impresario Boris Lermontov who is adamant in helping her fulfil her dream of becoming a world-famous ballet dancer. Page’s relationship with the red shoes is a strong aspect as they begin to take hold of her, both in the ballet that she performs and her own personal conflicts.
Ashley Shaw is an effortless Victoria Page and joyful to watch. She is ever expressive, performs gracefully, and has complete ownership of the role. The chemistry between Page and love interest Craster, played by Dominic North, is convincing.
The development of their relationship is drawn out more in the second act, which sees their struggles and hardships unfold. Here, they share a beautiful pas de deux that displays a turbulence of emotions.
Adam Cooper returns to the company and plays Boris Lermontov with great command and stage presence. As one would expect he performs the stern and authoritative character brilliantly. Shaw, North and Cooper are excellent in capturing the obsessive dynamic between the three main characters.
As ever in Matthew Bourne’s storytelling, there are comedic cues that are always warmly received. In particular, the Monte Carlo beach scene, complete with giant beach balls, and the London Music Hall scenes, garner the most laughter. All add to the work’s charm and amusement.
The ever-changing set really adds to the cinematic feel and is wonderful to watch as it transports the audience from London to Paris and to Monte Carlo. In particular, the use of the projections and dry ice, illustrates the ballet within a ballet scene, adding to the dream-like and ethereal visuals.
As the story’s darker tone unfolds, the set and theatrics on stage add to the sombre mood, both in the funeral that takes place and the tale’s tragic, closing moments. Perhaps the end comes a little too abruptly. It did feel there was room for a little more heightening of the emotion and intensity.
Like its inspiration, The Red Shoes has a magical and dream-like feel and confirms Matthew Bourne’s fantastic ability as a great storyteller.
Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes is at Sadler’s Wells to January 19. Visit www.sadlerswells.com for details and tickets.