Review: The Red Shoes at the Birmingham Hippodrome

I must confess I’ve never liked the 1948 Powell and Pressburger film of The Red Shoes – too melodramatic and with too much lurid technicolour – but as soon as I heard the legendary Mr Bourne was making his own version of the story I just couldn’t wait.

And the result doesn’t disappoint, in fact quite the reverse. Because this landmark production is simply a choreographic tour de force from one of the world’s top creative artists.

The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes

A note in the programme says he made this ballet as “a personal love letter to a life in theatre and dance” and believe me, it shows because its kaleidoscopic spectacle of moods and situations full of human interest is quite frankly world class.

This is an evening on the grandest of scales, a non-stop journey through the worlds of reality and the imagination. The variety and lavish scale of the sets themselves shout out that this is a class production, but every detail here is subtly refined and refined again, lighting, costume, the very structure and variety of its scenes.

If this production has a secret weapon it’s Bernard Herrmann’s score orchestrated by Terry Davies. So many new dance works have poor music, all bangs, creaks and moans, but the score here is magnificent, witty, descriptive, with an ever-changing menu of moods, by turns sweepingly dramatic and delicately evocative, and most important of all, highly danceable.

If the narrative first act involves us deeply from the start, the dream-like second act takes us on a psychological journey that is deeply involving.

In a glittering cast Sam Archer holds the plot together marvellously as impresario Boris Lermontov who sets the whole story in motion, while Chris Trenfield glitters as music student Julian Craster, and a star is born with Ashley Shaw’s personification of the ballerina doomed to wear the Red Shoes.

No amount of hyperbolae does full justice to this marvellous production. In a wonderfully varied evening the Monte Carlo beach sequence filled with perfectly observed pre-war decadence stands out while the hilarious second half music hall scene with Wilson and Kepple but without Betty is alone worth the price of admission.

The genuinely spontaneous standing ovation at the end said it all. The Red Shoes is stunning. There’s so much in this marvellous show I’d be quite happy to see it again. The good news is Matthew tells me it’s coming back to the Hippodrome for a week in July. See you there!

The Red Shoes runs at Birmingham Hippodrome until February 11. For tickets phone the box office 0844 338 5000.

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