Having studied the work of Matthew Bourne at college, I was more than excited to be given the opportunity to review his retelling of The Red Shoes at the Norwich Theatre Royal. Being unfamiliar with both the original Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale and the 1948 film, this story was completely new to me. I was excited to see how Bourne would communicate it to someone with no prior knowledge or expectations and I have to say he did a fantastic job.
The story follows Victoria Page, a young ballerina hoping to find stardom. Ballet impresario Boris Lermontov is impressed by her talent and casts her as the lead in the ballet of “The Red Shoes”. After falling in love with the put-upon composer Julian, Lermontov becomes jealous and forces Victoria to make the ultimate choice between art and love.
This show was incredible from start to finish. The entire cast made the complex and beautiful choreography look completely effortless. The ingenious set design was entirely transporting and allowed the transition from sequence to sequence to be seamless and dream-like. This coupled with the intricate costumes immersed you entirely in the story. Lez Brotherston who was responsible for both did a truly outstanding job. As well as this, Bourne’s direction makes you feel as though the audience are always in mind. One of my favourite things about his work and this show in particular is that it’s always easy to follow and you never feel as though you’re out of your depth, despite the fact the story is told completely wordlessly through dance. His use of recognisable pedestrian movements mixed in with complex choreography, his use of humour and the encouragement of the dancers to think like actors makes piecing everything together a total breeze.
Although the solos and duets were performed beautifully, I have to admit that my favourite parts were the group numbers. These scenes were organised chaos (in a good way), with so many different things happening at once there was always something new to focus on and they were all incredibly fun. One particular number takes place at the beach and the creative use of beach balls in the choreography was a delight. Despite this business however, you never lost the main story.
The entire cast was clearly immensely talented and did an incredible job, however there were a few cast members who gave very memorable performances. First up Ashley Shaw was unforgettable as Victoria Page giving a layered and heartbreaking performance. Liam Mower gave a great performance in multiple roles, funny and flamboyant as the choreographer and a sinister and devious performance when performing in the ballet of “The Red Shoes”. Jackson Fisch as Ivan Boleslawsky was an incredibly talented and emotive dancer as well as being the source of a lot of the comedy within the show.
To anybody who thinks ballet is boring, I encourage you to see this show.