The Red Shoes @ Sadler's Wells - Review

December 22, 2016


When you think of Christmas theatre, you might think of the West End and heading out with some family or friends to a musical or play. Naturally this isn’t the only form of festive entertainment to be enjoyed on stage over the Christmas period however with at least one ballet company performing Swan Lake or The Nutcracker each year. This year though, there’s another treat for ballet fans with Sir Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes arriving at Sadler’s Wells.

For those unfamiliar with the starting point, The Red Shoes is a fairytale written by Hans Christian Andersen in the 19th century, which was adapted by the vaunted pairing of Powell and Pressburger in 1948. The film expanded upon the writing of Andersen by presenting ‘a story within a story’; the plot concerns a gifted young ballet dancer who attains the lead role in a production of The Red Shoes. This production is an adaptation of the film rather than the fairytale and manages to seamlessly convey what one might expect to be a difficult story to tell.

Sir Matthew Bourne and his production company New Adventures are well versed in putting modern ballet onstage, specialising in taking on source material which many other companies may veer away from. Just two years ago, they revived their Edward Scissorhands ballet from 2005 and received rave reviews. Other productions include Dorian Gray and The Car Man, an update of Bizet’s Carmen.

The Red Shoes receives a spectacular set at Sadler’s Wells, central to which is a gorgeous flowing red theatre curtain that revolves to show both the performances of the dancers in front of an audience and their backstage experiences. It’s a novel conceit and works superbly throughout, also being used to showcase the lives of characters living apart. Ultimately, this is the story that The Red Shoes is looking to pass on – the struggle that artists and performers face in bringing their work to fruition. Whether it’s your personal or business life, something has to fall back in order for another area to prosper.

 At the heart of the ballet is Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw), a dancer who sports a deep ambition to lead a production under the eye of the authoritarian Lermontov (Sam Archer). She earns her chance in the form of The Red Shoes after the lead is injured during rehearsals, but after a number of stellar performances, the life of a touring artist begins to take its toll and Victoria falls for the composer, Julian Craster (Dominic North). Is she able to both fall in love and continue on? Well, you’ll have to see the show to find out but needless to say, Victoria’s story mirrors that of Hans Christian Andersen’s from a century earlier.

The choreography is absolutely stellar – as one might expect from a Bourne production – and the cast are all on top form. With a score that pulls its music from the early work of film composer Bernard Herrmann, the production absolutely dazzles throughout; each and every dance is perfectly contrasted with the sound from the orchestra and the result is a glorious harmony. The costumes evoke the spirit of the era wonderfully and there are some genuinely funny moments too, which those new to ballet might not expect.

In the lead role, Ashley Shaw is exemplary, pulling off Victoria’s fragile character of elegance and vulnerability with astonishing poise. The ensemble naturally aid her in this endeavour and the standout sequence – the full production of the fairytale The Red Shoes at the conclusion of the first act – is a prime example of a cast of dancers at the top of their game. For those new to ballet, this is a production that we urge you to go too but do not worry if you miss it at Sadler’s Wells over the Christmas period as The Red Shoes will be touring across the UK in 2017.

For tickets to The Red Shoes both at Sadler’s Wells theatre and across the UK, please click here.

Photo of Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page taken by Johan Persson.

 

 





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By Henry Fosdike