The Red Shoes, Wales Millennium Centre, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures

March 16, 2017 by

From the moment the show starts, you know you are witnessing something very special.  The set, lighting, music and projection all meld wonderfully to create a work of beauty and grandeur.


Based on the fairy tale by Hand Christian Anderson about a pair of enchanted ballet slippers and on the 1948 film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, this is a potent story about art and a group of artists who will do anything to achieve greatness.


The main conceit of the show is that of art versus life.  The backstage/onstage story has been done before, but Bourne and his creative team seem to have made it something thrilling and original.  Bourne is painstaking in his detailed recreation of the 1940s ballet world creating his own colourful and spiralling world.


The plot is a simple one.  Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw), a young ballerina caches the eye of ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Sam Archer) and is thrust into the lead role when the leading lady sprains her ankle.  During the new ballet The Red Shoes, she finds that the shoes are cursed.  She is caught between her romantic love for composer Julian Craster (Chris Trenfield) and the jealous love of Lermontov.  She wants to dance, but also wants to be loved.  It seems she is destined for tragedy, as she risks her dance career to marry Craster.  All the dancers give permitted performances really creating the feeling of a dance company striving for perfection.  Ashley Shaw as Page lacks some depth of character but dances with abandon.  Sam Archer is a brooding, moody Lermontov and Chris Trenfield is passionate as Craster.


Lez Brotherston’s simple but astonishingly complex set transports us to dingy backstage theatres, Monte Carlo and a grotty music hall in London.  The rotating proscenium arch floats and glides around the stage as if dancing itself.  It rotates around the characters drawing us into their maelstrom of drama.  The lighting by Paule Constable creates a myriad of mood, from ornate to grimy but never fails to be jaw droppingly beautiful.  Bourne deftly choreographs to match each scene and mood.  Some of the scenes are dramatically cinematic in style, but the real beauty comes in the backstage  scenes with art mirroring life and the struggles of Page to achieve her artistic ambitions.  The set really comes into its own in a split scene where we see Lermontov broodingly pining for Page.  He is enveloped by the swirling set and we are transported to Page and Craster’s failing relationship.  It really is a thing of beauty and at times, for me, outshines the performances.


The use of Bernard Herrmann’s music is inspired.  Terry Davies sensitively orchestrates the swirling strings, waltzes and doom laden low notes to perfection.  The score is both magical and unsettling, which matches the style of the piece exactly.


This is a luscious and colourful production.  Bourne has created his own version of a classic and it really is a sumptuous visual and audible feast.


The Red Shoes, Wales Millennium Centre, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures. Plays until 18th March 2017




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