Milton Keynes Theatre
14 February 2017, 7.30pm
I’d waited a long time for this, but finally I thought that an ideal seventh birthday treat would be to take V to see a work from the man who is arguably our greatest choreographer and director. Sir Matthew Bourne.
And the production? The Red Shoes.
I tell you this so you know that these thoughts about the show are for those who want to know how suitable it is for young people. And as for adults – well, in my book it goes without saying that it is a beautiful and emotional piece of dance which takes place on a gorgeous looking clever set.
Don’t get me wrong. We have seen some fabulous children’s shows in the past seven years but it is so good to be able to enjoy something more adult together and ballet/dance is the perfect way to do this.
For while it undoubtedly has adult themes, you are not going to get any adult language. Plus, at seven, she is old enough to discuss the story with me in terms that are age appropriate. The Red Shoes is also a little bit surreal which is great for the young imaginative mind.
The original Hans Christian Andersen story is about a little girl and the red shoes she always wants to wear – despite being told not to – and because of her “vanity” causes suffering to those around her. In the end she is “saved” because she repented this so-called “sin”.
The film version takes this story and keeps the theme of how once a pair of red shoes are put on you can’t stop dancing – a theme both literal and metaphorical that many of us can relate to.
But it is also a love story between dancer Vicky Page and Julian Craster and tells of the tension between loving someone and being the best artist you can possibly be. Between them is Boris Lermontov, the dance company boss who believes that you can’t be a great dancer or musician if you are distracted by the love of something else. It’s like art is a religion – so harking back to Andersen’s tale.
For youngsters, these are themes you can talk about afterwards but it also looks beautiful and V was quite mesmerised from start to finish. There is something rather wonderful about taking a sideways glance at you child and seeing them wide-eyed and completely involved in something that you enjoy so much.
The Red Shoes opens with a ballet dancer in the spotlight en pointe in Red Ballet shoes. A beautiful sight for a young ballet dancer to see and marvel at and this set the tone. Just watching the dancers in beautiful costumes moving effortlessly around the stage would have been enough for her, even without a story.
I have to admit though there was some silent giggling and open-mouthed glances at me whenever a male dancer appeared without a top or in their pants! “They have LOADS of muscles,” she told me afterwards. I had to agree really. Cue a discussion on how fit you have to be when you’re a dancer.
The revolving scenery helped her understand the transition between scenes easier and she also found it fascinating. She understood the final tragedy but to be honest was probably more interested in the staging of it and the fact there was a massive steam train on the stage.
As far as the story is concerned, for a youngster you can easily relate it to something they might be familiar with – like the X Factor – about what people think they have to do to be stars. Notice I say think. Reality TV is not the only route and – you do have to have talent to start with and work hard. This is a good lesson.
The ultimate theme of The Red Shoes is that nothing matters but art. I wouldn’t want V to think about art to that extreme – but if she can take away that art is a serious thing, it is beautiful but requires sacrifices if you want to do it then that’s a good lesson to learn. Plus I can always pull the story out of the bag later on when she’s in the midst of GCSEs and being distracted by all the usual diversions for a teenager.
When the house lights went up she whispered “in a few years that will be me” so she was definitely inspired. My only problem now is trying to stop her standing en pointe in bare feet.
This show was fine for a seven-year-old who is interested in dance and is used to sitting still for at least an hour (the length of the first half) and watching a show quietly. The second half is only about 30 minutes.
This is not a show for running up and down the aisles and discussing what’s happening loudly – whatever age you are!