The story follows Victoria Page (Ashley Shaw), an aspiring ballerina keen to make her mark and attract the attention of Ballet Impresario, Boris Lermontov (Sam Archer). Despite his initial reluctance, Vicky catches it, fulfilling her dream and securing the lead role, following Prima Ballerina Irina Boronskaja’s misfortune when she sustains an injury. Anjali Mehra is diva-like in her portrayal of Irina, perfectly encapsulating the film siren of the era, supported by performances from the cast that are melodramatic in style, the characters exaggerated to provide a comedic spin and perfectly capturing the essence of cinema’s heyday.
Following a play-within-a-play – or in this case, a ballet-within-a-ballet – the story unfolds through a backstage peek into the world of the artists, the onstage proscenium arch revolving depending on the perspective of the audience and providing scope for some wonderfully insightful moments of the characters waiting in the wings.
The internal version of The Red Shoes ballet played out by the characters is skilfully depicted in monochrome and evocative of a black and white film. The only hint of colour amongst the set and costumes are the red ballet shoes themselves and accents of red in the suit of the seducer, a mirror of Lermatov himself, a forewarning of what is to come.
Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company are perfectly suited to portray artists consumed by their work, seamlessly blurring the distinction between fiction and reality. The energy from every performer onstage never wanes, from the bustling ensemble scenes, reminiscent of Busby Berkeley and Esther Williams films with the corp de ballet in period swimwear, intricately choreographed so there is almost too much to absorb, to the more intimate pas de deux between Vicky and struggling composer, Julian Craster (Chris Trenfield) as their relationship deepens.
But herein lies Vicky’s demise and so begins her battle with love versus art. Following her heart, she rejects the fame and the French Riviera in favour of seedy East-End dancehalls, quickly realising this is not providing the fulfilment she craves. Desperate to find it again, she succumbs to the red shoes to become a marionette in the hands of puppeteer Lermatov.
Ashley Shaw’s portrayal of tragic heroine Vicky is near perfect, from her flawless appearance as a Ginger Rogers reincarnation, to her inherent desperation as she admits defeat and ultimately dances herself to her own inevitable demise. The strength of characterisation alongside Matthew Bourne’s vision for the piece, it’s filmic qualities brought to life by Lez Brotherston’s stunning set and costume design is what heightens this production: whilst the ballet itself is strong and precise, it becomes so much more than a dance piece. It becomes a spectacle, a feast of colour and excitement, yet with heart wrenching moments of tragedy. However, through Matthew Bourne, the red shoes will continue to dance on.
Runs until 3rd June 2017 at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre click here to book tickets.
For more information about Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and the production of The Red Shoes click here
Reviewed on 30th May 2017