The Red Shoes, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures at Bristol Hippodrome

MANY words of praise – fantastic, great and legendary amongst them – have become devalued because they are now too often applied to people and events that do not deserve such a description.

It was only after much thought that I decided to declare that director/choreographer Matthew Bourne’s production of The Red Shoes left me “breathless” in admiration.

The way in which he integrates Terry Davies’ orchestrations of Bernard Herrmann’s music into the story of the rise and fall of a young ballerina torn between her love for a struggling composer and the possessive love of the great empresario who artistically drives her on, is in turn surreal, romantic and full of a passion that great art is worth dying for, is nothing short of magical.

Duncan McLean’s production design, beautifully dres­sed and costumed, allows the story to move through nine different settings so seamlessly that you are unaware that the setting has changed. McLean’s imagination mat­ches that of  Bourne, who uses every bar of music to enhance the telling of the story and open the up the emotions of the characters. You do not have to be a connoisseur of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s iconic (another overused and devalued word today) 1948 film to follow the changing emotions of those involved in the story of The Red Shoes.

Whilst you can never accuse Matthew Bourne of being a copyist, in any way he does acknowledge a debt to that 1948 film, and is therefore happy to let his young dancer take on the appearance of the beautiful red-headed Moira Shearer who originated the role of Victoria Page. At times you have an eerie feeling that Moira Shearer has returned, so much do Cordelia Braithwaite or Ashley Shaw, who share the role, look and move like that lovely lady.

Although drama and passion dominates the story there are also some lovely lighter moments on hand. The End of Season Party at Ville­franche-sur-Mer, with the full company dressed in the height of 1920s holiday and seaside fashion, is a delight to the eye and a joy to the senses.

The return to a East End Music Hall provides a wonderful re-enactment of one of the legendary music hall routines – Wilson, Keppel and Betty’s sand dance. The only thing missing was a Betty.

You may see Reece Causton or Glen Graham as the obsessive ballet impresario Boris Lermontov, or one of three dancers, Harrison Dowzell, Stephen Murray or Dominic North, as the struggling composer Julian Craster, but whoever you see the result I am sure will be the same for this is a company rehearsed within an inch of its life that has strength in depth.

Sensitively lit by Paule Constable, there is even room to praise the delivery of the finely-played “canned” music which Paul Groothuis presents at changing volumes which ideally fit into the pictures it accompanies.

This is a unique evening at the theatre. I took someone who knows nothing of ballet, and has little knowledge of dance, and they were absolutely mesmerised by the production.


The Red Shoes is also at Southampton May­flower from 24th to 28th March.

Posted in Reviews on .