Matthew Bourne The Red Shoes at The Liverpool Empire Theatre

Posted on 29 June 2017
By Jeanette Smith
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The Red Shoes, currently running at The Liverpool Empire Theatre, was a 1948 hit film by Powell and Pressburger, and efforts to recreate their enigmatic success on stage have thus far failed. However Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company has succeeded where others have failed by bringing to the theatre the story of Victoria Page and her struggle between dance and desire.

Bourne is known for his quirky and innovative ‘dance-theatre’ style and in this production he does not disappoint. There are many filmic references both in the tremendous set, terrific lighting and sound devices, particularly at the end of act one with the recreation of the ‘Red Shoes ballet’. Based loosely on Hans Christian Anderson’s tale, the story closely follows the film version, though with high energy music from
Bernard Herrman’s pre-Hitchcock scores, and beautifully orchestrated for this touring production by Terry Davies.

The story took a little getting into but once the establishing scenes were out of the way the narrative gathered pace. The stage is set with a clever revolving proscenium arch showing both sides of the curtain – the glamour and the graft.

Cordelia Braithwaite takes the Moira Shearer role of Victoria Page, filling the place of lead dancer Irina when she injures her ankle. Braithwaite, with red hair matching her red shoes, reveals naivety, tenderness and vulnerability. She dances with a lightness of touch, a true antithesis to Sam Archer’s Boris Lermontov, the exacting Ballet Impressario, and demanding Diaghilev figure.

Archer gives us a strong interpretation of Lermontov, who draws Victoria in by promises of greatness. But jealousy rears its ugly head and her love for struggling composer Julian Craster, beautifully danced by Dominic North, means he is dismissed. She packs her bags and follows him.

The luscious sets, by Lez Brotherston, that have depicted wonderful theatres, lush drawing rooms and mediterranean beaches now evolve into a dingy London flat, where the pair of lovers are struggling making ends meet with turns at a local music hall.
But fame, art and Lermontov draw her back with catastrophic results.

As with all Bourne enterprises the costumes are of the period with muted tones and then contrasted with stark monotone in other scenes. There is much melodrama, with climactic unsettling music to match, yet whimsy in the beach and music hall scenes with a lilting musical accompaniment.

Putting the Red Shoes on stage was a big gamble for Bourne, and although it seemed slow to gain momentum one can only admire the ingenuity of the production and the superb dancing, not to mention the terrific music that stays with you once you leave the theatre.

The Red Shoes
Liverpool Empire
June 27 – July 1
Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures,Touring
Directed and Choreographed by Matthew Bourne
Assistant Choreographer Neil Westmoreland
Projection Design Duncan McLean
Sound Design Paul Groothuis
Lighting Design Paule Constable
Set and Costume Design Lez Brotherston
Purple Revolver Rating. **** Colourful and Climactic