This production is renowned choreographer and director Matthew Bourne’s interpretation of The Red Shoes. The story was originally written by Hans Christian Andersen and made famous on film in 1948, with ballerina Moira Shearer starring as the protagonist torn between her career and the man with whom she falls in love. The themes of the obsessive pursuit of art, creative achievement and the timeless love triangle, make this far more complex than traditional fairy-tale ballets though. Accents of contemporary dance provide an edge to Bourne’s choreography and the opulent retro Hollywood glamour of the costumes and design is immensely satisfying and fashionable for today’s vintage fascination and tastes. There’s plenty of wit embedded in the choreography too and a purposely clumsy Egyptian dance duet in particular, is a real crowd pleaser.
It is both an intrinsically theatrical yet often cinematic production, thanks in main to Lez Brotherston’s magnificent set. Scene changes are fluid yet dramatic and much of the action flips between front and back stage, through the use of a grand proscenium arch on a turntable. Projections provide illusions through which we are transported to a range of locations, including Monte Carlo and Villefranche-sur-Mer, while the dramatic lighting design brings a heady atmosphere. Underscoring the action throughout, is the rousing music of Bernard Herrmann (best known for his work with Alfred Hitchcock). As our heroine struggles with her decision of whether to pursue art or romance, her emotional stress is echoed in the score. The curtain falls at the end of the first half after a cacophony expressing her mental state, has sent a shiver down the spine.
This is a flawless, large-scale production that is breath taking. At times the plot moves quickly and is hard to follow (particularly so if you don’t already know the story), but the visual spectacle alongside the delightful details, compensates for this. It can be easy to view ballet as elitist entertainment for certain echelons of society, but actually this has such a wide appeal. It would be hard for anyone to see this show and not be entranced by the magic, grandeur, creativity and athleticism of it. And in terms of the price tag, it’s really not any more expensive and in many cases, far cheaper, than the favoured live entertainment of the masses: big concerts and west-end standard musicals. Ballet is so much more accessible than often we realise and this is an excellent production for anyone wanting to avoid a saccharin sweet, fluffy affair. Yes, there are tutus, but the glitter and fluttery femininity is offset by darker, macabre scenes which add the delicious sour to the sweet.
All photos courtesy of Johan Persson.
For more on The Red Shoes and booking please click here, as it continues at Edinburgh Festival Theatre until 13th May.