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  • Writer's pictureJohn Murray

The Red Shoes Theatre Royal Plymouth Nov 21st 2019

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You may well be wondering why I am writing a review for a show in Plymouth and the answer is simple. You can take this as a preview as this particular production, by Sir Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures Company, will be winging its way into Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre next May 19th – May 23rd. It seems a long ways off but we all know how quickly time passes.

There is of course a further strong Scottish connection in that Moira Shearer, who danced her way to international stardom in the 1948 Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger original film, was born in Dunfermline. That classic take based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, where the titular shoes possess a power over the wearer to never stop dancing, is so well known as to need no in-depth explanation from me. The film garnered Academy Awards, Golden Globes Awards and BAFTA nominations and wins making it one of the most successful British films ever.

Before going further I should point out that I am absolutely not an expert on ballet or dancing. I simply enjoy the skills of the dancers but can pass no comment on the accuracy of different steps or movement. To my eyes the company was brimming with talent. The set was both simple and sumptuous allowing us the audience the unique perspective of being party to both the show and the show within a show taking place on the stage. We see the Lermontov Ballet Company rehearsing and performing their own shows as the set revolves around them.

The role of the doomed flame haired dancer Victoria Page fell to Ashley Shaw with Adam Cooper as Boris Lermontov, Harrison Dowzell as composer Julian Craster. All the cast members worked truly hard throughout and the actual The Red Shoes ballet sequence was quite brilliantly staged. This section of the story in the film was full of vibrant colour but here Matthew Bourne has chosen to revert to black and white with the characters performing almost like silhouettes against a backdrop of ever changing images indicating the passing of the seasons as Victoria is unable to stop dancing.

As the evening progresses we pass through the different stages of Victoria falling in love with Julian, the jealous reaction of Boris and of her eventual demise torn as she is between her love for her husband Julian and the love of art in the form of possessed shoes. It is within the actual story telling where I have to say that for me this production stumbles.

In a film you obviously have dialogue which moves the story along. Characters are clearly defined within the roles being played. However throughout much of this production I struggled to identify who was who. Many of the male roles in particular seemed to blur in part due to the similarity of the costumes being worn. Oddly this was not a problem in Romeo & Juliet where everybody was clothed the same way (see my previous review). Were it not for the occasions when Julian was seen holding what was meant to be musical manuscripts then he could have often been anybody.

I don’t know whether Ashley Shaw actually has flame red hair or if it was a wig but at couple of points there were clearly two red haired dancers on stage doing similar routines. During the extended routines where we saw the “shoe maker” dancing as the devil dressed in a red and black suit he clearly looked similar to Lermontov. So much so that I thought he was meant to be portraying the jealous side of Lermontov being danced by Adam Cooper but no. Slightly later Lermontov was on stage at the same time. Perhaps it was in part due to where I was actually sitting in the theatre but it was all a bit confusing.

Having said that you will most likely be thinking that I did not enjoy the show and would not recommend it and that is absolutely not the case. We have come to expect that Matthew Bourne productions are exciting, vibrant, stimulating and challengingly different but not so much this one. Here he has tried to stick closely to the original screenplay and it felt kind of flat as a result. For sure this was the opening of what is a long and extensive national and international tour and I feel certain that by the time it reaches Edinburgh many of the shortcomings will have been ironed out.

The production values are still high and the cast are terrific as befits a tour of this magnitude. There are plenty of humorous moments early on and also during the London Music Hall section with a delightful parody of Wilson & Keppel’s (without Betty) own parody of the Sand Dance. Of course it was dance which we all came to enjoy and that was there in abundance. It is beyond me how these super talented dancers will be able to do this night after night. They truly are supreme athletes in every sense of the word.

When you go you can sit and enjoy the spectacle coming out afterwards having been thoroughly entertained but do please pay attention.

Will I be there in the audience when May comes around? I will most certainly will be and hope many of you reading this will be as well.

Graeme Scott

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