Theatre 2016 – The Red Shoes, Sadler’s Wells, London

Saturday, 17th December 2016 – The Red Shoes, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London

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Above is a photo of the ceiling in Sadler’s Wells Theatre where we recently saw the latest of Sir Matthew Bourne’s splendid dance creations, The Red Shoes. Bourne’s imagination, at least where dance is concerned, has always been what you might describe as filmic, and so it should come as no surprise that this is based on the 1948 film, rather than the original Hans Christian Andersen tale, though obviously it contains massive elements of both.

The original has been restaged, reimagined, and reworked numerous times, but I must confess to having seen none of them. I did however have a rough idea of the plot, but even with that knowledge the production was able to surprise and delight, with some very nifty scene changes to show both front and back of house at the theatre, a beach somewhere in Villefranche, Monte Carlo, and a seedy music hall somewhere in London, all with the minimum of disruption to the on-stage action, but all powerfully evocative. I suppose one should expect nothing less from Bourne, especially when he is working with regular collaborator Lez Brotherston (costume and sets). They’ve previously worked together on “Sleeping Beauty”, “Edward Scissorhands”, “Lord of The Flies”, “Swan Lake”, “A Play Without Words”, “Highland Fling”, “Dorian Gray”, “Cinderella” and “The Car Man” so pretty much the bulk of anything Bourne has done.

The costumes and sets were pretty well night perfect, including the fur coat with which Irina Bornskya (danced by Michela Meazza) rehearses a dance where she imperiously orders the lights to be on her at all times. The real coup de theatre however, comes towards the very end of the work, and is I must say the most realistic representation of a steam locomotive I imagine to be possible on a theatrical stage. It was both impressive and shocking so kudos to Mr. Brotherston for his sterling efforts.

In any Matthew Bourne production there is usually so much going on that you don’t know where to look, or you become fixated on what one or two dancers are doing, and miss the rest. In this instance it was hard to tear your gaze from Ashley Shaw, playing the lead character Vicky Page. Right from her first entrance as she auditions for Boris Lermontov (danced by Chris Trenfield) as an awkward, inexperienced youngster to her glorious curtain call at the end of the first production of the ballet within the ballet, to the very end scene she is magnificent, perfectly cast.

And that curtain call is a thing of wonder, with some of the cleverest sound design imaginable, as the audience in the theatre applauded, only to have the sound of the on-stage theatre audience swell and erupt into a crescendo of clapping and bravos. It was a very smart use of the available technology to create a moment that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! And I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one.

The production goes on tour in 2017 and I would urge you to see it if you can if you have any love for dance at all. There are moments of humour as well as of tragedy, and I for one would very much like to see it a second time just to try and catch the moments I missed first time round.

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