Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes at the Bristol Hippodrome

Ginny Gould reviews Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes, playing at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 7 March.

Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes is a thing of beauty and wonder. I’ve only seen a few ballets, and these only in the last few years, having spent most of my life thinking that it wasn’t for me. My companion last night had never been to a ballet before although she studied dance at school so is more educated about the whole thing than I am. She did confess that she was expecting to have to work at ‘decoding’ the story. It’s great to be able to say that this was not the case – this is a very accessible show with a storyline that is easy to follow and it takes you through a range of emotions, with laughter and sorrow and yes, sometimes a sense of mild bemusement, though never enough to lose track of the overall plot.

The story is simple in essence – a young dancer is under the control of a dictatorial director who eventually forces her to choose between love and her role in the ballet. She chooses love, leading to the loss of her prima donna status and instead appearing in East End variety show. The ‘red shoes’ are dangled in front of her again by the director, she agrees to dance for him once more and in the process loses her love leading to a tragic finale.

Between all of the passion and intensity there are scenes of pure joy, in particular the Egyptian dancers and their orange pants in the East End show and the exuberance of the beach scenes set in Ville France Sur-Mer. At times there are so many things happening on stage at once that it is hard to catch all of the details: the tearful chorus girl being comforted by her friend off to the side, the injury sustained from overambitious gymnastics, the actions of the lecherous showgirls. The way your eye is subtly drawn from one part to another within the crowd on stage speaks for the quality of the lighting and acting.

The cast of dancers changes from day to day and I’m not sure which particular dancers were on stage last night but from a completely amateur point of view I can’t fault any of them – and I suspect that experts couldn’t either. The quality of this production from the stage design to the precision of the choreography to the exquisite costumes is unmissable.

I loved the way that there was a stage on the stage, and that sometimes the arch turned taking you from front to backstage. I loved the glimpses into the lives of ballerinas, as the shows within the show were rehearsed and danced. I loved the glamour of the French holiday costumes and the beach, and the beauty of the projections on the white background as Victoria and Craster dance while time passes. I loved the gently comedy of the interplay between Victoria and Craster on first meeting.

Actually I just loved all of it. It’s not necessary to be a ballet aficionado or a fancy dresser to enjoy going to the ballet; it might not be for everyone but I would definitely recommend that everyone tries it at least once because it might – as it has been for me – be a route into a whole new world of enjoyable experiences.

Image: Choreographer and Director – Mathew Bourne, Designer – Lez Brotherston, Lighting – Paule Constable, Plymouth, 2019, Credit: Johan Persson/

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