Saturday, 3 December 2016

Red Shoes Bourne Again

Sir Matthew Bourne
(c) 2006 New Adventures
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New Adventures The Red Shoes The Lowry, 2 Dec 2016


I have come a long way in my appreciation of Sir Matthew Bourne since I wrote: "Why can't I be nicer to Matthew Bourne?" 5 April 2013. That was the headline of my review of Sir Matthew's Sleeping Beauty which I described as very, very clever but perhaps too clever by half. I could see its merits but I didn't really like it. I think it was Baby Aurora scaling the curtain very early in the performance that drove me up the wall. Not even a sterling performance by Christopher Marney whom I have always admired as Count Lilac could mollify me.

I had mellowed a little by the time I saw Bourne's Swan Lake nearly a year later.  In Swan Lads - Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, Bradford Alhambra 4 March 2014 5 March 2016 I wrote:
"When I reviewed Bourne's Sleeping Beauty on 6 April 2013 I asked "Why can't I be nicer to Matthew Bourne?" Well, this time I think I can."
I still had reservations but there was much to like from the re-working of Tchaikowsky's music to the kiss that the prince gave a bag lady at the end of act 1. I was so glad I could be nicer Matthew Bourne because he deserved some praise.

I was even more positive about The Car Man which I saw in Sheffield on 24 June 2015.  I wrote in Motoring  25 June 2015:
"Matthew Bourne has never been quite my cup of tea but that does not stop my recognizing quality when I see it. Last night at the Sheffield Lyceum we had quality in spades. Quality in Lez Brotherson's designs. Quality in Terry Davies's score which incorporates Bizet and builds on it. Quality in the dancing including an impressive first performance by Tim Hodges in the role of Luca. Above all, quality in choreography by Matthew Bourne. The Car Man is the best production by New Adventures that I have seen to date."
Bourne read the review and tweeted:
I replied that I had always valued his work just as I esteem Lapsang Souchong or Darjeeling but I still prefer good old Yorkshire tea and milk. Bourne responded that we sounded more similar than I thought. He added "I enjoy the variety in my tea too! Spice of life! Thx again."  He started to follow me on twitter and has commented more than once on articles in this blog proving that he reads it occasionally.

Sir Matthew was in the audience last night when I saw The Red Shoes at The Lowry. He was actually a few seats from me in the stalls and my companion spotted him in the Pier Eight bar in the intermission. I thought about introducing myself to him:
"He actually reads my blog, you know." I said to my companion. "We had over 13,000 page hits last month which may be as many as readers as the critics get in the qualities."
"I think you should," she said and so I did.
From the tone of his voice, I doubt that he could place me when I told him who I was;  but he could not have been more courteous or charming. He asked me whether I was enjoying the show and I was very glad to be able to reply that I was.

For if I hadn't I would have told him and this review would have been dripping with vitriol rather than unguents.  I grew up with The Red Shoes  and love it more than any other film. If I thought anyone was taking liberties with it I would have defended it with all the fury of a tigress protecting her young. In fact, I wanted Bourne that I would in my preview Red Shoes Rebounding 22 Nov 2016:
"I love this film and I think Sir Matthew must do so too. If he has done a good job in transposing it to the stage I shall be deliriously happy and will never say an unkind word about him again. But if I find that he has mucked it up ...................."
Happily, Sir Matthew did not muck it up. He honoured that film and its actors by making something that is at least as beautiful.  In the programme notes Bourne said:
"I have loved this film since I was a teenager with its depiction of a group of people all passionate about creating something magic and beautiful. It seemed to be saying that art was something worth fighting for, even dying for, if the rather melodramatic conclusion is to be believed. It was a world full of glamour, romance and creativity populated by larger than life personalities. In short it was a world I wanted to be part of." 
Although I drew precisely the opposite conclusion, I have always loved the story, the glamour and romance. For me. it is a love story plunged into tragedy by the obduracy of the impresario, Lermontov. and. to a lesser extent, the young composer, Craster.

Sir Matthew follows the film pretty faithfully with just one significant change. Bourne shows Vicky walking out in solidarity with Julian when he is sacked by Lermontov and she is reduced to working in an East End music hall. That did not happen in the film and it would not have happened in real life for ballet had a massive and growing audience in Britain immediately after the second world war as David Bintley reminds us in Dancing in the Blitz: How World War II made British Ballet. However, it fitted the story well and gave Terry Davies an excellent opportunity to incorporate Knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road into the score.

Yesterday Cordelia Braithwaite danced Vicky Page. She looked like Moira Shearer and she moved uncannily like Shearer. I can't imagine a better fit.  Chris Trenrtfield made a convincing Craster. In some ways, I thought he was better cast than Marius Goring had been in the same role in the film. Sam Archer was an impressive Lermontov.  Grischa was danced by Glenn Graham and he reminded me very much of Leonide Massine who performed that role in the film.

Lez Brotherson's sets and costumes were magnificent as they always are. They transported us to a lost world of smoking jackets, steam trains and music halls - one that possibly existed during my lifetime but which now seems to be as remote as any in history.  I loved the score and its orchestration as well as the choreographic interpretation.  The duet between Victoria and Craster in their London flat when they decide to return to Monte Carlo was particularly poignant.

This is a splendid production and in my opinion Sir Matthew's masterpiece. I can't see how he can improve on or surpass this work - but, with Sir Matthew, you never know. He is after all the nearest we have to a Diaghilev in our times.

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