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Dance supremo Matthew Bourne’s vision is as clear as ever in ‘The Red Shoes’ – review

By Will Stroude

You’d be hard pushed to find an artist working in any medium who manages to express himself as authentically as Matthew Bourne. Show after show, he reveals and explores his interests, emotions and passions; this purity of self-expression has been a major factor in his success.

His new show The Red Shoes is a reworking of the classic Powell and Pressburger film. It traces the rise and fall of ballerina Victoria Page, torn between her love for sensitive composer Julian Craster and her love of dance, controlled and manipulated by company director Boris Lermontov. It’s Lermontov who sets Page on the road to artistic fulfilment when he casts her as the lead in his ballet based on a dark, twisted fairytale by tortured gay writer Hans Christian Andersen.

As the central plot of The Red Shoes revolves around a classical ballet company, much of Bourne’s choreography reflects this. Although elegant, at first it can feel a little buttoned-up and restrained – and Lez Brotherston’s sumptuous designs are so breathtakingly beautiful they threaten to overwhelm the narrative. But before long Bourne is drawing out every ounce of emotion from his source material – and delving much deeper than the original film. And as the emotions begin to unravel, his trademark darkness comes to the fore.

As you might expect of a show about dancers, The Red Shoes is wall-to-wall dance. But as well as being a fantastic choreographer, Bourne’s also a great director – and his staging and storytelling are both exceptional. No one can tell a story through dance quite as well as Bourne. No-one can establish character, convey emotion and create humour quite like he does. And the show-within-a-show format of The Red Shoes gives him a second world of dance, design and emotional depth to explore.

One aspect of himself Bourne has often explored in the past has been his sexuality as a gay man. Shows such as queer classic Edward Scissorhands, the intensely homo-erotic The Car Man, and, of course, his hugely influential all-male Swan Lake have delighted thousands of gay fans – and helped change attitudes towards gay people all over the world.

The Red Shoes doesn’t have as much gay-themed content as some of his past hits, although Liam Mower does a great turn as the waspish company queen and there’s a deliciously camp swimwear scene as the dancers arrive in Monaco. And it doesn’t take long for the male dancers to go shirtless; Bourne has always been inspired by the beauty of the male form and continues to celebrate it here.

This may not be the most gay show he’s ever made but it’s right up there with his best – and it’s arguably his most beautiful. The London run completely sold out before opening night but the show is embarking on a major national tour. Do anything you can to get a ticket!


The Red Shoes is running at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London until January 29, and touring the UK until June ’17. For tour dates and booking info, click here. For more of the best deals on tickets and shows, visit

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