Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes: Theatre Review

“I dedicate this show to all the Victoria Pages, past and present, who have ever felt the lure of the red shoes and the need to express themselves through dance.”

– Matthew Bourne

When tickets to The Red Shoes fell out of my Christmas cracker last year, I almost cried. Matthew Bourne is one of the most innovative choreographers of our time, and April couldn’t come soon enough for me. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a ballet: the whole ex-ballerina chronic illness situation means that ballet in particular isn’t always the easiest thing for me to watch, BUT I was excited to go and see this show at Bradford Alhambra Theatre with fresh eyes.

The current tour is a world premiere based on the original fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson, and is the first time that The Red Shoes has been translated into a ballet. The story follows an ambitious and obsessive dancer whose relentless dreams of dancing professionally become hindered by the presence of two men who have the potential to twist her devotion and destroy everything she’s ever worked for.

So, let me start with the ending and work backwards. I’m very conscious of keeping this spoiler free for anybody who’ll be seeing this production later in the year, so I’ll just say this: never before have I sat in an audience where instead of applause as the curtain fell, there was complete silence. I had to make a conscious effort to reinstate a normal expression on my face, because my jaw was practically on the floor. You could argue that had I been more aware of the storyline before seeing the ballet I would’ve been better prepared for what was coming, however I maintain that the way it was played out on stage would have winded anybody. Massive props to the set, lighting and music people for creating a tumultuous ending so grand that I was lost for word. Me, for crying out loud.

It wasn’t just the ending that was flawlessly executed: I think one of the biggest strengths of Bourne’s choreography is the way that little character nuances are so well integrated throughout the performance. Michela Meazza was especially wonderful at this, and gave a gloriously humorous performance. As an ex-dancer, I absolutely loved the scene during the on-stage tech rehearsal: the way the performers ‘marked’ their steps so closely mirrors the way dancers seemingly unconsciously do it in real life that I couldn’t help but chuckle. The same could be said about the on-stage rehearsal scenes for the ballet; I loved the way that the passive-aggressive undertones that can often arise in those kinds of situations (e.g. casting envy/favouritism) were portrayed by those playing the corps dancers, especially as that’s a side of ballet that non-dancers all too often don’t realise even exists.

The dancing of the New Adventures company was of course stunning. Cordelia Braithwaite as the lead character gave a technically superb and emotive performance as Victoria Page, and personally helped me invest much more in the storyline. Another thing I loved about this performance was that not all of the cast had the typical ‘ballet body’ that’s sadly such an imperative part of most renowned ballet companies. It was SO refreshing to sit and watch a performers who didn’t have the bony, skeletal physique yet proved that this isn’t a pre-requisite for being a talented ballet dancer. My only grievance is that cast lists weren’t given out at the performance: there was one on display in the foyer that I took a photo of, but it could easily have been missed, which could lead to cast members missing out on the credit they deserve.

Staging-wise, the use of the proscenium arch was a clever way of portraying the stage within the stage, something that potentially could have become confusing for the audience had it not been handled well. The costuming was a brilliant representation of the theatre world in the late 1940s, with the red shoes themselves being fully utilised as a physical representation of the power of obsession.

I think I could talk forever about this performance, but my take-home message is this: go and see The Red Shoes if you can. If you’re a ‘ballet person’ you will love it. If you’re not a ‘ballet person’… you will also love it.

On a personal note, Matthew Bourne says in the quote included at the top of this post that this production was for all the Victoria Pages in the world. As I mentioned, I don’t see ballet as often as I used to because of my current circumstances, but in my time, I was a Victoria Page. I didn’t know how much I needed to see this production until I experienced it for myself, and it not only tugged at a heartstring, but pulled my whole heart out of my chest and bourréed over it until it bled. If I’m not the one dancing on the stage, I now know that watching Bourne’s incredible work is the very next best thing.

The Red Shoes is currently touring the UK. Find out more here and for goodness sake, PLEASE go and see it. Go go go.

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