Question: If something you love is adapted into a new medium, do you a: run a mile and pretend it doesn’t exist, or b: go and see it out of morbid curiosity? With this in mind I went to see Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes and quickly learnt that I had nothing to worry about. Depending on who you ask Matthew Bourne is either the enfant terrible of ballet, or the genius bringing dance into 21st century.
From talking to other audience members, and overhearing people in the bar at the interval, it was clear that there were a lot of people there who haven’t seen the film, therefore, there may be some people reading this who also haven’t. In short, made by The Archers, aka director / producer due Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in 1948. The story of Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) an ambitious young dancer torn between her career represented by the controlling company impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) and the man she loves Julian Craster (Marius Goring).
Ashley Shaw takes on the part of Vicky and is sensational (Ashley Shaw danced the lead on Wednesday but shares the role with Cordelia Braitwaite and Katrina Lyndon depending on when you go) as are the rest of the cast. Knowing the film so well it is difficult to say how well the story is expressed, and how much of it is my prior knowledge. One thing that is clear, the love triangle between Page, Lermontov and Craster is clearly expressed and is the heart of the story. I am not sure if an audience needs to understand any more than this to enjoy the production. There are changes to the plot but the centre of the story, ballet of The Red Shoes remains: Based on the Hans Christian Andersen story: a young woman is given a pair of red shoes by a demonic Shoemaker. She puts them on and begins to dance and can’t stop. Ultimately she dies from exhaustion and the shoes are retrieved by the Shoemaker ready for his next victim.
Like with the film, the ballet of The Red Shoes is spectacular. Without the benefit of movie special effects (yes they did exist before CGI) the ballet relies of stunning production design. The sets are nothing short of genius. A proscenium arch located on the stage turns at key points of the show changing the audiences prospective. Combined with a few simple props and some projected images it proves that a little truly can go a long way. There a few moments from the film that can’t be reproduced without dialogue, most notably an exchange between Page and Lermontov exploring their motivation.
Forgoing Brian Easdale score from the film in favour of the music of legendry film composer Bernard Herrmann. An interesting choice. If you listen to Herman’s music from North by Northwest and Psycho you will hear elements similar to those of a ballet score with characters having their own motifs entwine as the characters interact. But you won’t hear any of this in The Red Shoes, none of his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock are used. The notable scores used here include re-orchestrated versions of Citizen Kane, Fahrenheit 451, and Hangover Square. The music is fantastic and works perfectly, at no time did I think I was listening to a modern score or one cobbled together, it sounded like a Herman movie score, a classical score with an edge. The one thing I did miss, a live orchestra. As fantastic as score is, a live orchestra would have elevated it to a different level.
Cinema is my first love and I have loved The Red Shoes since I first saw it as a student more than twenty years ago, but Matthew Bourne’s adaptation is a worthy one.