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29th November 2019

Review: Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes

Sam Bronheim reviews Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes at the Lowry, which stars Adam Cooper and Ashley Shaw
Review: Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes
Photo: Johan Persson.

When I write reviews, I always try and find at least one critical thing to say about a show, no matter how much I loved it. For once, I am unable to do so.

Matthew Bourne’s production of The Red Shoes is a triumph in every sense of the word. No expense was spared, and no element was overlooked, to do justice to such an iconic story. The Red Shoes is a tale by the typically eerie Hans Christian Andersen, which was elaborated into a film in 1948. The fairy-tale tells the story of a young woman whose life is destroyed by her obsession with a pair of red shoes. The movie and this production has a play-within-a-play narrative; it follows the life of Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw), who, similarly, is divided by her personal life and the dedication she has for her passion to star as the lead in The Red Shoes.

Not the easiest to explain, I’ll give you that, but, essentially, Victoria’s life becomes the story of the fairy-tale, both ending in tragedy. Life imitates art. Black Swan did something similar with Swan Lake.

Ballet is difficult for a lot of people to watch because there is no talking; it’s harder to feel sympathy for the characters. I can confidently say for anyone who chooses to go see Bourne’s production that this would not be the case. The humour comes across brilliantly, as do the tragic aspects. I actually shed a tear. Bravo, Matthew, bravo.

The lack of talking can also make it hard to concentrate, but this too was not an issue. The complex choreography and the mesmerising costumes and sets meant that, even if you were unsure about what was happening in the plot, you always had something else to be completely captivated by. If my heart wasn’t breaking for Victoria and Julian (the young pianist she falls in love with), I was gaping at the fully rotating Pros Arch that was floating above the main stage. Bourne himself has said that this set dances with the characters, and I couldn’t describe it better myself.

I couldn’t discuss how great this performance was without mentioning Shaw, who plays the lead. It was like the choreography was made for her. Though, she did originate the role when the ballet premiered in 2016. She conveyed so much emotion in her dancing, which really allowed the audience to connect with her. Not only did this boost my appreciation and awe of the dancing, but it made me so much more invested in her story. Olivier and Tony nominee Adam Cooper also starred in this production, though he is only appearing at two venues outside of London.

The best part for me was the unique style. I’ve been to classical ballet and musicals many times before, and this performance falls somewhere in the middle. I think this makes it very accessible for anyone and everyone. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking ballet isn’t for you because something like this will come along and blow you away.

Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes will run at the Lowry until the 30th of November and will continue its UK tour throughout 2020.

And just in case you needed any more evidence for how much I enjoyed this show, I’m catching it again before they leave this weekend!

Sam Bronheim

Sam Bronheim

Co-Science Editor

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