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"This beguiling ballet, this terpischorean treat" - The Red Shoes at the Bristol Hippodrome

Published by: G.D. Mills on 5th Apr 2017 | View all blogs by G.D. Mills

Based on the 1948 Oscar winning film, which in turn takes its inspiration from the Hans Christian Anderson story, Matthew Bourne brings us a new, visually stunning, dream-like incarnation of The Red Shoes. For those who don’t know, the grisly fairytale is about a girl who refuses to take off her red shoes when she goes to confession. For her sins the shoes develop a life of their own and so she is doomed to dance, through streets, fields and graveyards, by day and by night. Even when her feet are chopped off she is unable to gain redemption - only death can give her that.

In both the film and Matthew Bourne’s version we are presented with a dance company going through the processes of staging the old fairytale. And so what we see is a stage, on a stage, on a stage. Designer Lez Brotherston captures this complex dynamic beautifully with a series of complex and ingeniously conceived mechanical switches, which transport us across multiple locations in a matter of seconds. There is a filmic quality to the production too: we find our point of view being cleverly and unexpectedly manipulated as the onstage curtain reverses and we find ourselves treading the boards alongside the dancers, looking out towards another audience.

The story is told exclusively through movement and dance, as presented by a motley bunch of theatrical eccentrics: the impetuous, impressario director; the melodramatically fey, male lead; the muse-struck musician and, of course, Vicky Page, who simply flies through the air with a beautifully fluid grace. The set is rarely motionless and the stage is ceaselessly alive with movement.

Bernard Herrman, a Hollywood legend known for his musical contributions to Citizen Kane and Taxi Driver, provides a psychologically nuanced score. Always visually engaging the production is nevertheless narratively ambiguous. Despite having read the programme notes beforehand I wasn’t always sure whether I was watching the show within a show within a show, or merely the show within the show. With a complex premise of this nature, you can see where there is room for confusion, and discussion at the interval confirmed that I wasn’t the only slightly confused audience member.


The arrival of a steam train, which crashes apocalytically through the stage, marks the end of this dance delight, this beguiling ballet, this terpischorean treat. For those new to the world of ballet, as I am, The Red Shoes provides a marvellous introduction.

Go see the production at Bristol Hippodrome yourselves.















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