Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes at Sadler’s Wells

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

After first premiering three years ago and quickly gaining two Olivier Awards, The Red Shoes returns to London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre for the winter period.

In true Matthew Bourne style, this whimsical retelling of the 1948 film of the same name is a masterpiece of imagination and passion.

It tells the story of an aspiring ballerina, Victoria Page, as she follows her dreams of becoming a star. For much of the show, she is torn between her professional aspirations and her love for the company’s composer. She cannot have both. She is a woman in the 1940’s after all. Professional ambition is deadly.

And Matthew Bourne shows this harrowing truth both with humour and great tragedy. But be sure to read a quick synopsis beforehand. This show is a performance within a performance within a performance. It’s gets a bit Inception-esque at some stages.

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Victoria Page is controlled by her red shoes – symbolising her ambition. Photos and lead image by Johan Persson

You’re watching a ballet about ballerinas. At one moment you’re in rehearsals and the next they’re performing both for you and an imaginary audience. Knowing what is real and what is not is certainly a part of the fantasy.

For Victoria’s red ballet shoes throw her into a state of delirious confusion. What is real and what is not are not entirely apparent from her perspective either.

You can’t help but get wrapped up in her rise and fall.

The dancers lead this charge. Effortlessly taking over the stage, moving with such precision and speed. We still can’t believe how athletic these performers are. They make Bourne’s choreography look so easy.

But set and costume design really transports you back to this era of film. Colour and design pair to take you back to this whimsical period – at least that version of events. Get swept up in the comical and wonderfully camp seaside scene or the dramatic show they put on in Monte Carlo.

And the musical score by Bernard Hermann thunders through Sadler’s Wells Theatre, making the scenes on stage all the more epic and harrowing. You’re enveloped by these waves of musicality.

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Feel as a part of the cast by watching their dramatic rehearsals.

All of these elements combine to create this 2-hour dreamlike sequence of events which you can’t help but get emotionally caught up in – even if there aren’t any words to makes things abundantly clear.

The Red Shoes is also just as meaningful today as it was when the film first came out. You follow a woman, surrounded by men, trying to have everything. But the men around her have the control and make her ambition out to be a weakness. It is her inevitable downfall.

They control the narrative. But you can’t help but feel for Victoria Page as she fights back against their control. Be sure to see it for yourselves before it sets off again.

The Red Shoes runs at Sadler’s Wells Theatre until 19 January 2020.