Theatre Review – Matthew Bourne’s Red Shoes Ballet

It’s tradition now that I see a production of Matthew Bourne’s New Directions Ballet every year. This is the third year of seeing a Matthew Bourne production. When I saw that Red Shoes was coming to my local theatre, I knew I had to grab tickets for it.

The original fairytale of Red Shoes was written by Hans Christian Andersen and goes as follows:

A peasant girl named Karen is adopted by a rich old lady after her mother’s death and grows up vain and spoiled. Before her adoption, Karen had a rough pair of red shoes; now she has her foster mother buy her a pair of red shoes fit for a princess. Karen is so enamored of her new shoes that she wears them to church, but the old lady told her “it’s highly improper and you must only wear black shoes in church”. But next Sunday, Karen cannot resist to put the red shoes on again. As she is about to enter the church, she meets a mysterious old solider with a red beard. “Oh, what beautiful shoes for dancing,” the soldier says. “Never come off when you dance,” he tells the shoes, and he taps the shoes of each with his hand. After church, Karen cannot resist taking a few dance steps, and off she goes, as though the shoes controlled her, but she finally manages to stop them for a few minutes.

After her adoptive mother becomes ill and passes away, Karen can’t even attend her foster mother’s funeral. And then an angel appears to her, bearing a sword, and condemns her to dance even after she dies, as a warning to vain children everywhere. Karen begs for mercy but the red shoes take her away before she hears the angel’s reply.

Karen finds an executioner and asks him to chop off her feet. He does so but the shoes continue to dance, even with Karen’s amputated feet inside them. The executioner gives her a pair of wooden feet and crutches, Thinking that she has suffered enough for the red shoes, Karen decides to go to church so people can see her. Yet her amputated feet, still in the red shoes, dance before her, barring the way. The following Sunday she tries again, thinking she is at least as good as the others in church, but again the dancing red shoes bar the way.

When Sunday comes again Karen dares not go to church. Instead she sits alone at home and prays to God for help. The angel reappears, now bearing a spray of roses, and gives Karen the mercy she asked for: her heart becomes so filled with peace, and joy that it bursts. Her soul flies on to Heaven, where no one mentions the red shoes.

New Adventures details the plot as: The Red Shoes is a tale of obsession, possession and one girl’s dream to be the greatest dancer in the world. Victoria Page lives to dance but her ambitions become a battleground between the two men who inspire her passion.

I have always LOVED ballet, traditional or contemporary, it doesn’t matter, I love watching dance. I was so excited to watch this. We had front row tickets. My Mum commented that for Ballet she preferred to sit a little further back in the stalls because it makes the performance and the view better to view. I totally accept that, I know that is the preferred view for most who watch Ballet. My vision is so bad, that even with glasses, if I sit anywhere other than the first 10 rows of the stalls, I just see blurry people. That’s the downfall of being very short-sighted I suppose.

The thing about New Adventure’s ballet productions, is that they’re so immersive. From the set design to the costumes, the dancing to the acting, the music to the lighting, every piece plays a part in the story. Every moment is choreographed perfectly to create the best story for you to watch. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to tell a story without words, to be able to pain a picture with just your expressions and your dance.

Every second of the ballet pulled me further into the story and I found myself smiling harder as the story progressed and connecting more to the characters as the ballet progressed. New Adventures always takes a traditional ballet and makes it into something new and it’s something I applaud.

There are so many people in the world who haven’t seen ballet or who don’t like ballet despite having never experienced it. When people think of ballet, they usually think of The Royal Opera House and the Royal Ballet. I know many people that have seen productions by the Royal Ballet, in the Royal Opera House and been disappointed.

Let me tell you a secret that I learnt on my tour of the Royal Opera House. Say for example, a ballet production of Sleeping Beauty was first put on in 1941. If someone were to want to do a production of Sleeping Beauty in 1964, they’d have to perform it exactly as it was performed in 1941. No changes. No embellishments. “Keep it the same as it was.”

Now, I enjoy traditional ballet, but I do think that this idea of keeping it the same and not allowing changes is holding back audiences. Obviously the Royal Opera House is making a killing and the Royal Ballet is well known in the UK and internationally, and I’m not surprised that they’re continuing a tradition that has worked so well for years. – personally I think change is good.

More people need to see New Adventure’s productions. I think they’d introduce a lot of people to the world of ballet in a new and interesting way.

For me, this performance of Red Shoes, which wove the original Andersen story in with the narrative of the Red Shoes film (1948), was phenomenal and I, along with my Mum and half the theatre, gave the production a standing ovation. I was grinning like a loon throughout the production, and for a short while, I was able to focus wholly on what was happening on stage. That doesn’t sound like much but it’s incredibly hard for my brain to shut up long enough, fuelled by anxiety, stress, and chaos, I usually can’t get it to shut up for sleep, let alone anything else.

New Adventure’s Red Shoes UK tour, is well on it’s way, if you fancy seeing something new, entertaining and humorous, check this out and see if it’s coming to a theatre near you. I promise you won’t regret it.


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