THE RED SHOES
Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 11th February, 2020
Celebrated choreographer Matthew Bourne adapts the legendary Powell-Pressburger film of 1948 for his own purposes, crafting the narrative into a spectacular evening of dance and emotion.
This is the story of Victoria Page, aspiring dancer, who gets her big break when the prima ballerina breaks her foot – it’s all a bit 42nd Street in this respect, especially with all the on-stage/off-stage drama. Victoria becomes an overnight sensation but finds her affections torn between Julian the composer and Boris, the impresario. It is this love triangle that forms the focus of the tale, with the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale taking a back seat.
I’m no dance expert but I recognise quality when I see it (and when someone hits the floor with a full shablam!). What I can tell you this is a production of unadulterated beauty, brimming with romanticism and passion. The dancing is flawless and enchanting; as we have come to expect from Matthew Bourne, the storytelling is clear and engaging, with well-defined characters/types and touches of humour. The plot unfolds in episodic scenes, taking in a range of exotic locations: Paris, Monte Carlo, and, um, Covent Garden, with the set dominated by a false proscenium arch with majestic curtains, dividing the off-stage and the on-, swirling and twirling as part of the choreography, as part of the troupe!
At this performance, Victoria is played by Ashley Shaw, technically tight and powerfully expressive. She is supported by Reece Causton’s suave but haughty Boris and Dominic North’s energised and passionate Julian. The rest of the company is equally impressive but in a show in which no one speaks, it is difficult to identify characters; I can’t tell my Nadias from my Svetlanas. Take it as read that everyone is at the top of their game. Special mention goes to the two blokes who perform a sand dance in the style of music hall act Wilson and Keppel (what, no Betty?).
One of the biggest stars of the night is the score by film composer Bernard Herrmann (who later went on to score films like Psycho). Herrmann’s music is stirring, sweeping and rich, with psychological undercurrents and disturbances. It’s highly emotive and Bourne makes the most of it to support the action.
Totally accessible, Bourne’s blend of contemporary dance, classical ballet and period choreography, delivers an evening of enchantment that is performed with breath-taking skill by a talented company. This is world-class stuff, powerful, entertaining and admirable. By the time I finish clapping, my hands are as red as the shoes.