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The Red Shoes at Birmingham Hippodrome - Review

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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Matthew Bourne Reimagining Of Cult Classic Film
Famed choreographer Matthew Bourne has stamped his own mark on Carmen, Edward Scissorhands and Swan Lake in past dance adaptations. This time, he has turned his attention to a legendary Hollywood movie, but is it a step too far even for the maestro of modern ballet?

Matthew Bourne The Red Shoes, Birmingham Hippodrome, New Adventures, Ashley Shaw
Ashley Shaw stars in The Red Shoes


The Red Shoes is the latest Bourne production to go on a UK tour and I caught it at Birmingham Hippodrome, where it stays until February 11 and returns again in July due to popular demand.

It's based on the Oscar-winning 1948 Powell and Pressburger film, which itself took inspiration from a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, and is about obsession and a woman forced to choose between love and her dream to be the greatest dancer in the world.

It's a bitter-sweet melodrama centred around dancer Victoria Page, who lives to dance, but becomes torn between the composer she loves and her theatre boss. It's an emotional battle of not only love versus art but also career versus love. Can you really have it all?

Matthew Bourne The Red Shoes, Birmingham Hippodrome, New Adventures, Ashley Shaw
Glamorous scenes in The Red Shoes are reminscent of the golden era of Hollywood


Matthew Bourne said he was attracted to the story as it is about a world he knows well, that of dance, dancers, the strive for perfection and backstage life of a touring theatre company.

With this in mind, the set and storyline moves seamlessly between front of house and behind stage where various humorous characters come to light and relationships unfold as they tour from Covent Garden to Paris, Monte Carlo and beyond.

As Bourne is so strong at character creation, there's the usual array of quirky figures on the sidelines, particularly camp dancer Ivan Boleslawsky, played with wonderful prima donna attitude by Liam Mower, and a pair of cheeky music hall performers doing a silly Egyptian dance. They are so bad, they're good.

Following the general storyline of the famous film, it follows Victoria as her dancing catches the eye of Boris Lermontov, the dance company's svengali. She joins the company and earns the lead role in a production of The Red Shoes after the leading lady injures her ankle. Despite success on stage, Lermontov becomes infatuated by Victoria's romance with the company's composer Julian Craster.

Matthew Bourne The Red Shoes, Birmingham Hippodrome, New Adventures, Ashley Shaw
Scintillating choreography in The Red Shoes


Victoria's chance to shine in The Red Shoes (a kind of play within a play) is among the key highlights of the evening. Ashley Shaw playing Victoria is an exceptional dancer and provides a sense of real emotion to her dancing.

Bourne uses silhouettes to great effect in this section, too, and the choreography is so acute that when the dancers pretend to be caught in a storm, you can almost feel strong winds blowing around you.

It's not just the choreography that holds the attention, it's the acting performance that helps builds up the narrative too. Added to that is a strong chemistry between Chris Trenfield as struggling composer Julian and Ashley Shaw as his lover Victoria, who have a scintillating pas de deux full of raw emotion when their careers hit a low and their relationship is put to the test.

Matthew Bourne The Red Shoes, Birmingham Hippodrome, New Adventures, Ashley Shaw
Sam Archer as Boris Lermontov in the Red Shoes


The Red Shoes has brought together the award-winning creative team behind last year's successful offering from Bourne - Sleeping Beauty. There's Lez Brotherston for set and costume, Paule Constable on lighting and Paul Groothuis behind sound, and their combination create an uber-stylish, slick sheen to this show.

Brotherston's designs are gloriously decadent, packed with vintage glamour and sophistication reminiscent of the golden era of Hollywood. The costumes are simply stunning but never overshadow that distinctive pair of bright red ballet shoes.

The cast look like a picture postcard from a 1930's Vogue magazine, especially in the beach scene at Villefrance-Sur-Mer when the charleston is part of the fun and rigorous routine involving beach balls.

This new version was never going to be a complete copy of the famous film and some of the story does seem a little bit lost. It's never really shown how tough Lermontov is being on Victoria to make her a better dancer.

Musically, it is different too. The film's renowned soundtrack by Brian Easdale, which won the 1948 Academy Award for Best Original Score along with a Golden Globe, has been replaced by a new score.

The soundtrack, arranged by Terry Davies, instead uses music by Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann, who famously provided the music for Alfred Hitchcock films North By Northwest and Psycho. It does however work well with the storyline and sounds suitably melodramatic and sweeps you away with the sad story.

Although Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes only opened in November last year in Plymouth, the show has already been nominated for the Robert Robson Award for Best New Dance at this year's Manchester Theatre Awards.

It's no wonder as The Red Shoes is a visually stunning, stylish recreation of a well-loved tale. Bourne has carefully crafted this production to respect the original but also put his own distinctive flavour on it, which can only help introduce this dance classic to a younger generation.

Rating:

Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes
Birmingham Hippodrome
Tue 7 - Sat 11 Feb
Also 19 - 22 July
0844 338 5000
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Why? Remaking of a dance classic with Bourne style
When: Dates until July
Phone: See list
Where: Birmingham Hippodrome
Cost: Varies
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