Written by Laura Creaven – Full To The Brum
For someone who did ballet as a child and sat through numerous performances of The Nutcracker growing up, I know precious little about current ballet. Which is why I mistakenly assumed The Red Shoes would be based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, rather than Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 film, which itself was a reworking of the Andersen fairytale.
Matthew Bourne’s newly staged adaptation of the legendary Powell and Pressburger film tells the tale of Victoria Page, a ballerina who wants to be a star, but fails initially to catch the eye of brooding impresario Boris Lermontov. Eventually noticed by Lermontov, she is invited to join his company, along with composer Julian Craster, who both begin to blossom in their respective talents just as they fall in love. Forced to choose between their love and their passion for their art, the pair choose each other initially but the grubbiness of reality force them to return to Lermontov’s company…and anyone that knows the Andersen fairytale will know that it doesn’t end well.
It’s an absorbing story, told through dance and beautifully acted through nuanced performances particularly from Ashley Shaw’s ambitious Victoria Page, torn between her passion for dance and love of struggling composer; and too Sam Archer’s portrayal of the morose Boris Lermontov, whose single-minded focus on his art is consuming.
The ballet-within-a-ballet is admittedly a little baffling at first, if you’re not familiar with the film, but once you get the hang of it, the cutting-edge Lermontov company’s pieces add a real sense of drama and at times feels a little surreal and futuristic. This is used to full effect when Victoria receives her red shoes from a devilish version of Lermontov and the company’s performance pieces begin to combine into her own living nightmare.
Yet it is not without more light-hearted elements; when Victoria and Julian are cast out of the company, the meta ballet-within-a-ballet offers a little light relief from comedically crude dancers, who usher in the scene of just how far the love-struck pair have fallen as they are forced to take roles in a rather tacky variety show.
Bourne’s new staging departs from the Oscar-winning score of the film and instead uses music from the golden-age of Hollywood composer, Bernard Herrmann, with arrangements from the 1966 film Fahrenheit 451 and Citizen Kane, to name a few. Arranged by Terry Davies, it is witty, bold and at times aching and dramatic, and works well moving along the story by offering a rich layer of plot development.
The Red Shoes is a show which doesn’t let you sit still for long, constantly offering a sumptuous storytelling despite the wordlessness, with a cinematic quality which skips through playful beach scenes and sinister mythology. Yet it still finds the time to tell the story of the ill-fated ballerina caught in a love-triangle between two men offering love and artistic ambition.
Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes runs from Wednesday 8th to Saturday 11th February at the Birmingham Hippodrome, and returns from 19 – 22 July. For more information and to book tickets, visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com