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Review: The Red Shoes at Sadler’s Wells

PUBLISHED: 11:02 19 December 2019 | UPDATED: 11:12 19 December 2019

Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes at Sadler's Wells. Picture: Johan Persson.

Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes at Sadler's Wells. Picture: Johan Persson.

JOHAN PERSSON

With a sensitive score, fantastic costumes and a splendid cast, Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes is a triumph of pure, unadulterated magic.

Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes at Sadler's Wells. Picture: Johan Persson.Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes at Sadler's Wells. Picture: Johan Persson.

The Red Shoes is a classic and hugely affecting 1948 film by Powell and Pressburger which starred Moira Shearer. It's often cited as a major inspiration for young dancers.

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

With a history like this, Britain's distinguished choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne's "long held ambition" to adapt it for the stage was brave indeed.

Bourne's "re-imagining" of the film proved to be an inspired and brilliant decision. The production which had its world premiere at Sadler's Wells in 2016 won not one, but two Olivier Awards.

Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes at Sadler's Wells. Picture: Johan Persson.Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes at Sadler's Wells. Picture: Johan Persson.

It has just returned to Sadler's Wells for a lengthy Christmas-New Year run which means that even more audiences now have a treat in store.

I enjoyed my second viewing of this fabulous show just as much as my first three years ago.

With the score sensitively arranged by Terry Davies using early works by Bernard Herrmann, who composed music for Hollywood movies, the production features spectacular set and costume designs by Lez Brotherston and lighting by Paule Constable. Both are long-term collaborators of Matthew Bourne and the result is 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 (flame-haired, mesmerising Ashley Shaw) and her struggle with passion for composer Julian Craster (a feverishly driven Dominic North) and artistic fulfilment via the controlling Svengali, Boris Lermontov (Adam Cooper).

The story moves between London and the south of France with stunning sets and costumes by Brotherston. We are transported from glamourous Covent Garden to bustling Villefranche-sur-Mer, complete with bathing belles. Using a revolving proscenium arch, the stage becomes the wings.

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

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

Heartfelt compliments are also due to the sound designer Paul Groothuis and Musical Director Brett Morris. Together with the splendid cast, they have ensured that Sir Matthew's 2016 gamble has paid off.

Continues until January 19. More details and tickets here.


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