The Red Shoes, Sadler’s Wells, review: ‘Pure, unadulterated magic’

PUBLISHED: 17:00 21 December 2016

THE RED SHOES. Credit: Johan Persson.

THE RED SHOES. Credit: Johan Persson.


Sir Matthew Bourne’s “long held ambition” to adapt it for the stage was brave indeed. It has proved to be an inspired and brilliant decision, for the production is beyond wonderful.

The Red Shoes, the classic and hugely affecting 1948 film by Powell and Pressburger starring Moira Shearer is often cited as a major inspiration for young dancers.

When it was last attempted in 1993 on Broadway, the musical version closed after just five shows, amidst dreadful reviews and a loss of $8 million.

So our illustrious choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne’s “long held ambition” to adapt it for the stage was brave indeed.

It has proved to be an inspired and brilliant decision, for the production which opened at Sadler’s Wells last week was beyond wonderful.

The choreography, a score based on the golden age of Hollywood musicals, the sets and the costumes are pure, unadulterated magic.

Preserving the film’s 1940s setting and most of its plot, Bourne follows the rise and tragic fall of dancer Victoria Page (red haired, mesmerising Ashley Shaw) and her struggle with love for composer Julian Craster (a feverishly driven Dominic North) and artistic fulfilment via the controlling Svengali, Boris Lermontov (Sam Archer).

The story moves between London and the South of France with stunning sets and costumes by Bourne’s long-standing designer Lez Brotherston. Covent Garden melts into the Monte Carlo beach complete with bathing belles, the stage into the wings.

And amidst the heartbreak, there’s acute observation and humour too.

The relationship between the ageing Prima ballerina (Michela Meazza), her leading man (Liam Mower) and ballet master (Glenn Graham) was very entertaining while the East End Music Hall scene with a pair of knobbly-kneed Egyptian sand dancers was unashamedly hilarious.

Stunning effects by lighting designer Paule Constable and compliments to the sound designer Paul Groothuis, Musical Director Brett Morris and orchestrator Terry Davies. They and the splendid cast have ensured that Sir Matthew’s gamble has paid off.

Rating: 5/5 stars

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