Theatre Review: THE RED SHOES – The Lowry, Salford


Brave, bold and intensely gripping, Sir Matthew Bourne’s magical new adaptation of THE RED SHOES dazzles the senses and breaks the heart

Sir Matthew Bourne’s magical new adaptation of THE RED SHOES makes its world premiere at The Lowry this week, reviving the classic story of love, passion and obsession for a new generation.

Based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale and the iconic 1948 film of the same name, THE RED SHOES is the story of one girl’s dream to be the greatest dancer in the world. Set in the theatrical world of a touring dance company, the ballet within a ballet tells the tale of ballerina Victoria Page who falls in love with struggling composer Julian Craster. But when dictatorial impresario Boris Lermontov also in love with Victoria, he threatens to tear the lovers apart and the young ballerina is forced to choose between ambition and love.

Brave, bold and intensely gripping, THE RED SHOES is an intoxicating drama that dazzles the senses and breaks the heart. Considering a musical adaptation of THE RED SHOES failed after just five shows on Broadway back in 1993, Bourne has certainly taken a risk to bring Powell and Pressburger’s seminal film to the stage but thankfully, the risk pays off. The award-winning director and choreographer effortlessly captures the story’s surreal and sensuous quality to deliver an enthralling and enchanting full-length ballet that is simply mesmerising to watch.

The new adaptation reunites the team behind the worldwide hit SLEEPING BEAUTY to deliver a breath-taking set and staging design. Paule Constable’s inventive lighting perfectly complements Lez Brotherston’s sumptuous set design, with its glorious grand, vintage theatre stage cleverly revolving to show the action both onstage and backstage. The costumes are equally dazzling, mixing traditional ballet tutus for the onstage sections with contemporary 40s/50s fashions for the backstage elements.

Terry Davies’ fabulous new score, which uses the mesmerizing music of golden-age Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann, adds a rich texture to the piece. The orchestrations performed by the New Adventures Orchestra, accompany the dance routines perfectly, with music ranging from the witty and playful to achingly beautiful and bittersweet.

But it is the choreography that truly shines in this production. Bourne is a masterful storyteller and his routines are complex and mesmerising to watch. From the playful French Rivera sequence which sees the dancers perform synchronised swimming moves to the hilarious vaudeville act in act two, every inch of the choreography is bold, inventive and a joy to watch.

Australian ballerina Ashley Shaw delivers a perfectly pitched performance as the gorgeously red-headed Page, who comes under the spell of a pair of beautiful but possessed red shoes. Her anguished dancing, in which the red shoes dictate her faltering footsteps, is hauntingly beautiful, with the dancer portraying the painful emotions through expression and movement.

Elsewhere Sam Archer delivers an impressive performance as impresario Boris Lermontov, dancing with contorted restraint as he tries to suppress his love and chilling obsessiveness. Chris Trenfield is equally excellent as struggling composer Julian Craster, his solo piece in act one standing out in particular for its inventiveness and keenly observed characterisation.

While Bourne’s choreography in THE RED SHOES is certainly impressive, a couple of the dance routines are a little too long in an attempt to keep up the varied score. The emotional connection of the piece also isn’t quite as strong as classics such as SLEEPING BEAUTY or SWAN LAKE, mainly because the audience aren’t as familiar with the story.

That said, THE RED SHOES possesses a kind of enchantment all of its own and the choreography is endlessly inventive. It may have taken Bourne 20 years to bring THE RED SHOES to the stage but believe me, it is well worth the wait.

4.5 out of 5 stars

THE RED SHOES runs at The Lowry until 3 December