A stark white set greeted the audience as the curtain rose for Red Shoes, a white piano sitting centre stage. Adapted by Humphrey Bower from the Hans Christian Anderson tale, Red Shoes is more nightmare than fairytale. Grotesque, convoluted and with questionable morals, this production co produced by ThinIce and Artrage in association with PICA is brilliant yet perplexing.
Directed by Matthew Lutton this is the kind of esoteric contemporary piece that will be applauded for its acting, direction and new ‘style’. People will attend and say “oh it was brilliant” yet will privately wonder what it was all about. That is not to say that it is a bad show. On the contrary – it is compelling viewing.
That’s the brilliance of this production. Although seemingly quite simple, there are so many things going on in this production that each audience member will take something different from the show. A combination of three of Anderson’s tales (Red Shoes, The Ice Maiden and The Shadow), the basic storyline is that of an orphaned boy, attracted to red shoes that once put on, won’t stop dancing. In desperation, he resorts to cutting off his own feet.
There are themes of religion, belief, sexuality, death, fear, vanity – the list goes on. In the program notes Lutton states; “everything is symbolic, because everything has meaning. This is how a work can appear simple, but be filled to the brim with detail.”
Three actors tackle the story – relative newcomer Brendan Ewing (last seen as part of Black Swan’s Hotbed Ensemble), and well known theatre regulars Igor Sas and George Shevtsov. Sas and Shevtsov play multiple characters, Sas the females, changing on stage in view of the audience or behind the piano.
They are a cohesive team, flowing seamlessly between characters and plots, and the production is fresh and crisp. The few stage tricks are effective and added rather than detracted from the action. Indeed, the set (Claude Marcos), lighting (Matthew Marshall), and the sound (composition by Ash Gibson Greig, design by Kingsley Reeve) all interconnect and work consistently towards the stark, contemporary performance.
Ewing plays Kevin, the boy on whom the stories rotate around. I’ve said it before; Ewing has a presence on stage that is undeniable. As Kevin he was constantly working, watching, and feeling – every movement was amplified (except, ironically, the dancing). Instead his shaking, which went on for so long it was disturbing, effectively portrayed the trouble Kevin was in both physically and mentally. My only concern is that his prolonged nakedness is unnecessary in the context of the story.
Sas portrays the female roles with a keen eye for stereotypical female movements; the hair swing, the eyelash battering, and the simpering looks. He also portrays (convincingly) Auntie C, Kevin’s blind, overly religious aunty with her invisible dog. Shevtsov swings between a priest, angel, shadow and solider, using his elastic and supple face to magnify each character. Both have the majority of the text, leaving Ewing to writhe and moan centre stage.
This is not a play for the fainthearted, as there is blood spat, splashed and spread all over the stage. This is for those who like to think about productions, who want to be challenged, provoked and go home pondering the ways of life. A contemporary, slick, and remarkable production.
THINICE and ARTRAGE in association with PICA present
A Theatrical Fairytale
Venue: Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts | Perth Cultural Centre, James St, Northbridge
Previews: 18 & 21 Oct @ 8pm, 20 Oct @ 6:30pm
Dates: 22 Oct – 1 Nov @ 8pm (doors open 7.30pm); 27 Oct @ 6.30pm (doors open 6pm)
Tickets: $25 full, $18 conc, $20 PICA and Club Ti members, Tuesdays all tickets
Bookings: PICA 08 9228 6300 or pica.org.au