Director/ Choreographer: Matthew Bourne
Reviewer: Lu Greer
Following the running theme of the last few years, yet another much-loved classic is getting a reboot, this time in the form of Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 classic The Red Shoes.
While perhaps not as well- known as the litany of other classic film being re-imagined in one way or another, Matthew Bourne has still set himself quite a challenge in creating a show which will remind some why they loved the Hollywood original, bring in others as new fans, and make itself stand out as something other than just another piece of nostalgia. It is a task which, as usual, Bourne is more than up to.
The story follows a young Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw) from when she is first discovered by Boris Lermontov (Sam Archer), a notoriously hard to please talent spotter, during an audition. Along with composer Julian Craster (Dominic North), Page is swept up into stardom, but their romance begins to cause trouble for their art. In order to show their lives both on and off stage, Bourne utilises a rotating stage (Lez Brotherston), allowing the audience to see what happens on both sides of the curtain, in a way that gives each of the ballet performances in front of stage more depth and emotion.
Attention, however, is rarely on the sets as they subtly create the world for the performances, rather than becoming the world themselves. In this reality created on stage Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page moves beautifully as she tells her story of the destructive pull between love of another and love of art. When the pull between the two becomes too much for Victoria, and begins to pull her apart at the seams, every moment can be felt through Shaw’s performance and leaves the audience breathless with her. She is complemented by contrasting male leads Sam Archer as Boris Lermontov and Dominic North as Julian Craster.
While North is very capable as Craster, the character occasionally feels as though he’s simply a representation of a romantic love for Victoria, and a pull away from her love of art, instead of being a fleshed out person in his own right. Archer as Lermontov, on the other hand, is a compelling character, as he stands stoic for much of the show, watching carefully as his dancers perform. While he rarely dances, in his stillness he still draws the eye, and his thoughtfulness and consideration of the dance are clearly felt. This also makes his performance as Victoria is pulled in both directions all the more dynamic, unnerving, and stunning.
Bernard Herrmann’s music fits wonderfully into the piece, and aids in Bourne’s controlled style of consistently progressing the plot. Each moment and each movement development the story, and shows more of the character’s personality and thoughts. In doing this, Bourne creates a very accessible show which flows nicely and builds naturally to a crescendo, to the point that it's almost possible to forget it is a ballet and not a play.
This really is an excellent imagining of The Red Shoes, with some sublime music, subtle performance, and outstanding staging. Even as the last curtain falls, it would be impossible to say with any certainty which side of the art versus love debate Bourne truly falls on, as the ballet instead of arguing the case of one side or the other opts to show how utterly destructive the pull itself can be.
The power of this message, combined with Ashley Shaw bringing Victoria Page to life and dancing as though her very soul needs her to leave the film version of The Red Shoes pouting backstage as this version stands in the spotlight.
Runs Until 25 February 2017 | Image Johan Persson