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Review: Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes at Bristol Hippodrome

"There is really nothing in the world that can be compared to red shoes," wrote Hans Christian Andersen in his 1845 fairytale, The Red Shoes. The Academy Award-winning film adaptation of his famous story by Powell and Pressburger in 1948 was inspirational to so many current day directors and performers. Back for its second season in 2020, this beautiful stage production from New Adventures will enchant everyone who watches it, as it gives a tantalizing glimpse behind the scenes of a touring dance company, and what it means to ultimately sacrifice everything for art.

Cordelia Braithwaite & the cast of The Red Shoes

Cordelia Braithwaite gives a stunning performance as Victoria Page, an aspiring dancer, who is at the heart of a tragic love triangle with composer Julian Craster (played impeccably by Dominic North, also of Swan Lake fame), and dance company 'Impresario' Boris Lermontov, who Glenn Graham infuses brilliantly with a quietly simmering rage. When Irina Boronskaya, the Prima Ballerina, is injured, Victoria is thrust into the spotlight, and as her career grows, she is forced to choose between the two very different men who inspire her passion for dance.

Dominic North as Julian Craster

Lez Brotherston's cinematic set and costume design is exquisite, transporting us seamlessly from a plain East London music hall to the glitz and glamour of the French Riviera in the late 1940s. There is clever use of a revolving proscenium arch which means the audience can see both backstage and when the fictional dancers are performing on stage too. Paule Constable's lighting design is inspired and is instrumental when taking us in and out of both the real and fantasy worlds which are being depicted in front of us.

The set and cast of The Red Shoes

And then there is the music. Terry Davies' gorgeous orchestral score is based on the romantic music of celebrated golden-age Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann, rather than the original film soundtrack. Much of Herrmann's music is being presented in theatre for the first time and it is simply glorious to listen to throughout.

Cordelia Braithwaite as Victoria Page

It almost goes without saying as this is a Sir Matthew Bourne production, but the choreography is wonderful too, and it even helps to inject some occasional humour into the show, with some particularly fun scenes when the cast travel to Villefranche-Sur-Mer for an end of season party. But of course the stand out scene is the 'ballet within a ballet' at the end of Act One and it's impossible to take your eyes off the stage as Victoria Page performs The Red Shoes. When the subsequent rapturous applause from both the real-life audience and the fictional one merges, we almost feel as if we have become part of this compelling story too.

Verdict: This stunning production is a real treat for all the senses. Go to enjoy the dance, go to enjoy the music, go to enjoy the sense of nostalgia... Whatever your reason, The Red Shoes will inject some much needed glorious colour into a gloomy March evening.

The Red Shoes is at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 7th March. Find out more details and book tickets here.

Disclaimer: I was offered two complimentary tickets in return for an honest review. All thoughts are my own. Photo credits: Johan Persson