Review: The Red Shoes at the Liverpool Empire *****
You wait for one Matthew Bourne show to come along – and two turn up in the same spring/summer season. Early Adventures at the Playhouse, and now The Red Shoes at the Empire.
Mind you, Bourne fans had to hold their nerve waiting to see if his latest hit creation, the double Olivier Award-winning stage version of Powell and Pressburger’s famous tale of love, ambition and possession, would get a date in Liverpool at all.
Luckily the choreographer’s late blooming love affair with the city has held firm, even if this week of performances comes in the closing stages of its UK tour.
But it’s been worth the wait. What Bourne production isn’t? We’ve been enthralled by his male Swan Lake, enchanted by his magical Nutcracker and Edward Scissorhands, and entertained by the gloriously Gothic Sleeping Beauty among others.
And next season sees the return of his World War II-set Cinderella.
As for The Red Shoes? The project that’s been a 20-year labour of love for Bourne to bring to the stage is a triumphant mixture of all the things that make his work so enjoyable and accessible; sparkling and witty choreography, striking sets and costumes from Liverpool’s Lez Brotherston, and powerful performances by the New Adventures company of dancer/actors.
There are lots of old friends on stage – from Sam Archer as the exacting, brooding impresario Boris Lermontov and Dominic North as temperamental composer Julian Craster, to former Billy Elliot Liam Mower as amusingly louche premier danseur Ivan Boleslawsky.
The fresh-faced Cordelia Braithwaite meanwhile, performing on press night, is sharing the central, demanding role of Victoria Page with fellow dancers Ashley Shaw and Katrina Lyndon.
Braithwaite is a wonderfully elegant dancer, and an emotive actor, bringing a real sense of the dilemma Victoria faces as she struggles to choose between her love for Julian and her love for dance, while under the spell of the possessed red shoes.
Her fluid pas de deux with Archer’s Lermontov in the first half, and North’s Julian in the second, are both delightful.
As The Red Shoes ballet itself unfolds, Brotherston’s sumptuous stage set, all decorative pros arch and swagged curtains, transforms magically into a clever and effective Art Deco cinema-style framework with a rolling backdrop like a screen behind the action.
Liam Mower (all photos by Johan Persson)
Meanwhile the tempestuous drama of the red shoes’ frenetic dance to the death, and the conundrum of love verses career, is punctuated by lighthearted scenes including a visually gorgeous Ballon de Plage, and a rude mechanical Wilson and Keppel – who have evidently lost Betty along the way – in the down-at-heel music hall where Julian and Vicky find themselves after their lovers’ fall from grace.
Here’s a fun fact for lovers of local trivia. The real Wilson was originally from Warrington.
Some film purists may quibble about the replacement of the original soundtrack with music by the late film composer Bernard Herrmann, but it gives the full length ballet exactly the dramatic and cinematic feel that takes it from the flat screen and brings it alive in three dimensions on stage.
The Red Shoes runs until Saturday. For tickets visit the Empire website HERE.