Review: Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes.

In the wake of yesterday’s devastation in London, a night of pure escapism has never felt more necessary. Escapism for me comes in many forms; it could be an evening curled under the covers with a book, a walk out in nature, a few hours spent with pen and paper…

Or it could be a trip to the theatre.

I’ve missed it. My theatre fix. Since returning to the UK and, more notably, Southampton I’ve felt that side of me shift away into the expectations of 9 – 5 life. I haven’t made time for it, despite a beautiful theatre being right on my doorstep.

But when I heard Matthew Bourne was coming back to town, there really was no need to convince me.

The Red Shoes - Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page.jpg

Because Bourne is a master of his craft. Easily one of the best choreographers in the country, if not the world, his intelligent understanding of movement and the stage never fails to create something truly magical.

Unsurprisingly, The Red Shoes was no exception.

THE RED SHOES. Ashley Shaw 'Victoria Page'. Photo by Johan Persson.jpg

From the word go, the audience was captivated. You could hear a pin drop during the opening scene as Victoria Page, the girl with dreams of being the Prima Ballerina, takes to the stage with a lightness that seems to defy gravity. You simply could not take your eyes from her.

THE RED SHOES. Ashley Shaw 'Victoria Page' and Sam Archer 'Boris Lermontov'. Photo by Johan Persson.jpg

As the show developed, Bourne fans were once again reminded of precisely what it is that makes him such a pioneering figure in the dance world. He takes a classic story and turns it on its head… he makes it feel as if he wrote it in the first place. The way he drips contemporary influences, humour, darkness and sheer class to his productions turn them into a fresh tale in their own right.

His portrayal of The Red Shoes was intelligent and, despite being set in the Golden-Age, fiercely relevant. The time old fairytale of a girl’s quest to become the greatest dancer in the world before being driven to insanity from her own ambition had hints of Black Swan about it, whilst still remaining true to the story. It was bursting with possession, obsession and seduction… basically, all the sexy stuff.

THE RED SHOES. Sam Archer 'Boris Lermontov' and The Company. Photo by Johan Persson.jpg

And whilst Ashley Shaw, who played Victoria, was the one commanding your attention, the whole ensemble was flawless. But would you expect anything different from New Adventures? From her partner leads right through to the group performers, every single person was nothing short of perfection. The ease with which they floated across the stage, the precision of their movements and the effortlessness of their lifts… it was beautiful to witness and a joy to feel a part of.

THE RED SHOES. Liam Mower 'Ivan Boleslawsky'. Photo by Johan Persson.jpg

As the performance crossed from first to second half, the drastic twist in atmosphere continued to leave the audience gripped. With a dance piece, that isn’t easy. To hold the attention, to leave you begging for more, throughout that whole 2 hours requires a level of professionalism and experience we of course anticipate from powerhouses such as Bourne. Regardless, it made my love for the production even stronger.

The score was intoxicating, with new and familiar music alike bouncing throughout the theatre at the hands of a pitch perfect orchestra. That partnered up with a stunning set and clever lighting brought the whole performance full package. It was transformative, in every sense of the word.

THE RED SHOES. Ashley Shaw 'Victoria Page' and Dominic North 'Julian Craster'. Photo by Johan Persson.jpg

As The Red Shoes drew to an end, the audience erupted. Everyone from young children right through to 70 + were blown away: you could feel it. The awe, that feeling of inspiration… it was palpable.

Living away from the capital I think there’s a tendency to assume we don’t have access to world-class productions. We’re also finding ourselves in a society where staying home, particularly on a weekday, is so much easier than venturing out to try something new.

If my reunion with Southampton’s theatrical scene tonight has told me anything, it’s that we need to step away from that. We need to embrace what we have in our city with both hands and make the most of the sterling performances that grace the stage every day.

So if you’re looking for an evening of old school glamour laced with comedy, poise and the bittersweet… this is for you. But hurry. Tickets are nearly sold out and you’ve only got until Saturday. Grab your tickets here and find out more about the production on the New Adventures website.

THE RED SHOES. Ashley Shaw 'Victoria Page'. Photo by Johan Persson (3).jpg

All photo credits: Johan Persson


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