Matthew Bournes’s stunning adaptation of the 1948 film and Hans Christian Andersen fairytale has returned to UK theatres, entertaining eager audiences and impressing even the toughest of critics. With two Olivier awards under its belt, The Red Shoes oozes professionalism, talent and flair. The production explores possession, obsession and aspirations, as Victoria Page, a dedicated ballerina, joins Lermontov’s prestigious ballet company.

In London, Vicky performs at her aunt’s soirée, delighting the crowd with her dancing. However, her performance fails to enrapture Lermontov – he offers a job to the pianist Julian Craster instead. It is during a challenging audition with the company’s ballet master, Grischa Ljubov, that her potential shines through and Lermontov gives her a spot in his ballet company. A month later, the company’s prima ballerina gets injured, and, much to Vicky’s luck, she is the dancer who catches Lermontov’s attention. On arrival in Monte Carlo, Vicky is handed a pair of red pointe shoes: these come alongside the lead role in Ballet Lermontov’s latest production, ‘The Red Shoes’.

Quickly, Lermontov’s obsession with Vicky escalates, but she falls in love with Julian, infuriating Lermontov in the process. Usually a composed and guarded man, Lermontov can’t control his temper, lashing out by discrediting Julian’s work and therefore forcing both Vicky and Julian to leave the company. However, six months down the line, neither Vicky nor Julian are artistically satisfied, spurring Vicky to return to Ballet Lermontov and revive her role in ‘The Red Shoes’. Unfortunately, devotion and obsession lead to her demise; Vicky becomes unable to distinguish between reality and fiction, and this has tragic consequences for the talented ballerina.

Matthew Bourne is the UK’s most successful choreographer and director, and The Red Shoes is another triumph which showcases his expertise. On opening night in the New Wimbledon Theatre, the enthralling performance received a standing ovation. Sophie S, a delighted audience member, remarked, “The Red Shows truly took me on an emotional rollercoaster – I became so invested in Victoria. It’s been 2 hours of high quality entertainment.” Bourne has brilliantly captured both the rewarding aspect of the arts, as well as the sacrifices which come with it in his adaptation of The Red Shoes.

The set is clever and impressive, much like Bourne’s accomplished New Adventures dance company. Lez Brotherston designed a rotating, mechanical proscenium arch, which aids the portrayal of both the offstage and onstage worlds of Ballet Lermontov. The arch is adorned with heavy golden red curtains and embellished with a gold trim and tassels, clearly depicting the wealth of Ballet Lermontov. Throughout the performance of The Red Shoes, the proscenium arch is fluidly moved upstage and downstage, as well as rotated. Another element of the set design is a white backdrop used as a cyclorama for projections, which effortlessly portrays new locations without physical sets. It allows the audience to perceive that Ballet Lermontov strays from the more traditional ballets of the time.

There are several memorable costumes in The Red Shoes, but the standout costume has to be Vicky’s ‘The Red Shoes’ Ballet outfit. It is comprised of a sweetheart cut tutu with a white tulle skirt, which has a red velour overcoat that’s embellished with gold embroidery. Striking and iconic, this costume remained ingrained in the minds of many audience members even after the end of the performance! Another notable costume has to be the blood-red robe Lermontov wears in his chambers, the colour helping to convey his anger and frustration at Vicky leaving his company.

Orchestrations by Terry Davis utilise the music of golden-age Hollywood composer Bernard Herrmann, complimenting the effortless dancing and removing the need for words to depict the plot. Moreover, the music strengthens the dream-like intensity achieved by the performance – it is truly magical to listen to. According to Matthew Bourne, ‘various concert pieces and suites from his (Herrmann’s) earlier life have proved very rich sources of material’. Meanwhile, the lighting design, courtesy of Paule Constable, is highly effective, helping to create atmosphere and highlighting key moments. The colour red is incorporated into the lighting as well as the costumes: when Julian and Vicky leave Ballet Lermontov, a burst of red light spills onto the stage. As a result of this, the anger of the characters and the climatic point in the performance is made to stand out and demand attention.

Ashley Shaw embodies Victoria Page perfectly, and her chemistry with Harrison Dowzell as the struggling composer is evident from the early onset of the performance. The role of Lermontov, the ballet impresario, is extremely well suited to Reece Causton, who manages to portray the commanding and somewhat dark personality of Lermontov. The rest of the New Adventures company members all excel also, solidifying how well trained they are both in dance and acting. Bourne’s ‘personal love letter to a life in theatre and dance’ couldn’t have been performed any better!

Saturday 14th March will be the last performance of The Red Shoes at the New Wimbledon Theatre, following which it’ll continue its UK journey at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford. A true masterpiece, this is definitely not one to miss! Dance novices, experienced dancers and regular theatre-goers alike will enjoy such a stimulating performance. Matthew Bourne has outdone himself once more, already capturing hundreds of hearts with such a tremendous production of The Red Shoes.

By Alex Pyatnytska, Esher College