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Review: Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes Review - Matthew Bourne


The Bristol Hippodrome

Tuesday 4th April – Saturday 8th April 2017

The Red Shoes is an intoxicating drama where life imitates art with fateful consequences.


Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tale and the Academy Award-winning movie, The Red Shoes is the story of Victoria Page who falls under the spell of a pair of red ballet shoes which, once on, will not allow her to stop dancing. She experiences conflict between her two passions: dancing and her relationship with the composer Julia Craster. Her dance company impresario, Boris Lermontov, believes you can’t be a great artist if distracted by human love and so her ambitions become a battleground between these two men who inspire her passion.


The works of Sir Matthew Bourne thoroughly divide opinion in our family. My classical-ballet-loving Mother now declines to accompany me to his productions, so strongly does she dislike the modern way he directs. She prefers a traditional ballet and was not amused by his adaptation of Carmen (The Car Man) or the distinct lack of tutu clad female dancers in his version of Swan Lake. I, on the other hand, keenly anticipate the surprises his latest production might have in store for me and by the looks of the queues when I arrive at the Hippodrome, so does half of Bristol!

The Red Shoes Review

Queues for Matthew Bourne’s “The Red Shoes” outside the Bristol Hippodrome.

As the action begins, a reverential hush descends on the theatre. Not a rustling sweet wrapper or single cough breaks the silence. At first the production seems to be rather ‘normal’ as dancers appear on stage in period costumes but then I realise that’s not normal at all as they’re not wearing recognisable ballet outfits or ballet shoes.

There’s a certain amount of dancing in ballet slippers and on points but there are bare-footed and high-heeled sequences too. During the stunning pas de deux in this romantic scene, the dancers in wide leg trousers, create all sorts of shapes in the air and roll over one another on the floor.

THE RED SHOES by Bourne, , Choreographer and Director - Mathew Bourne, Designer - Lez Brotherstoni, Lighting - Paule Constable, Plymouth, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson/

At times laughter breaks through the silence We see stiff, angular dancing which is not what we think of as ballet and then we hear laughter, lots of laughter. At first it seems disrespectful to laugh but we give up and let ourselves go as it gets funnier.

One scene which tickles our fancy is set on the beach in Monte Carlo when men and women in co-ordinating one piece costumes incorporate large beach balls into their routine and the other one which makes us laugh is the two completely unco-ordinated men cannoning into each-other in comical Egyptian style costume.

We’re often taken ‘behind the scenes’ into rehearsals where it seems odd to see a man dancing in pants, bare legs and no tights. Disinterested ballet dancers with their unusual costumes and apparently mediocre ability make this scene, amongst others, resemble musical theatre more than ballet.

I love the sequence when the red shoes are controlling Victoria and she’s trying to remove them and fighting against her own legs. The windstorm effects, projected leaves, choreography and swinging costumes combine to make it seem as though the dancers are being swept up in the wind. A couple of tweaks later and they’re defying gravity in space!

THE RED SHOES by Bourne, , Choreographer and Director - Mathew Bourne, Designer - Lez Brotherstoni, Lighting - Paule Constable, Plymouth, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson/

A mobile theatre curtain set within the main stage partially and fully rotates fluidly to quickly reveal different scenes.

And of course there are some surprises, which I’m not about to spoil here. . . .


The plot isn’t overly easy to follow and there are passionate scenes which don’t make The Red Shoes obviously child-friendly. If my sons were more interested in coming to the ballet, perhaps I would bring them along when they were in their early teens although I don’t spot any children in tonight’s audience so perhaps this ones more for the grown ups.


There’s a lot going on in this ballet. There are so many scene changes I feel as though I’ve watched several performances rather than just one. Lighting, video projection and a rotating theatre curtain are just a few of the ways the set transforms quickly and dramatically from one scene to the next. Costumes are excellent and plentiful and it’s not until the end that we realise just how small the cast is.  They must be exhausted – particularly Ashley Shaw who is absolutely superb as Victoria Page.

My friend and I both really enjoy The Red Shoes and wouldn’t hesitate to watch it again because there’s so much happening that we’d probably spot a lot of things we missed first time around.

Click here for more information or to book tickets to The Red Shoes or other shows.
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The Bristol Hippodrome
Tue 4 – Sat 8 April 2017
Evenings: Tue – Sat 7.30pm
Matinees: Thu and Sat 2.30pm
Tickets from £18.40
Concessions available at certain prices and performances

Click here for a complete diary listing of shows at the Bristol Hippodrome

Enjoyed our RED SHOES REVIEW? Then why not check out other show reviews on Practically Perfect Mums?

Funny Girl

Oyster Boy

The Wedding Singer

Sunny Afternoon

Not Dead Enough

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang


Million Dollar Quartet

Billy Elliot


Kiss Me Kate

Fiddler on the Roof

Breakfast at Tiffany’s



Guys and Dolls

Chicago The Musical

Taming of the Shrew Ballet

Let It Be

Mamma Mia!


Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty


Avenue Q

The Last Tango

The Bodyguard

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 

Mary Poppins

Little Table of Delights

I Puritani

Romeo and Juliet


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