The Red Shoes | Kneehigh Theatre

The Red Shoes | Kneehigh TheatreOnce upon a time when the world was not yet Disneyfied and, therefore, far less innocent, there lived a man called Hans Christian Anderson. Hans wrote tales for children in the 1800s. One of these was called The Red Shoes.

More than one hundred and fifty years later, which is just a short sleep if you are a fairytale princess, a theatre company from Cornwall, England called Kneehigh used the words of poet Anna Maria Murphy and adapted The Red Shoes for the stage.

For those of you who don’t know the story, an old lady (Dave Mynne) buys a pair of shiny red shoes for an orphan girl (Patrycja Kujawska). The girl puts them on then she can’t stop dancing. The shoes become addictive and take on a life of their own.

This is a darkly delightful mix of pantomime and cabaret, narrated by Lady Lydia (Giles King) the cross-dressing Dame. The show’s main strength lies in its ability to suprise both with its macabre happenings and quick changes of theatrical genre. It has this uncanny knack of changing direction the moment you fear the show may became nothing more than a series of dance routines.

The Red Shoes reminds you just how perverted fairly tales and kids entertainment use to be. Here we have a preacher without trousers (Mike Shepheard) and cross dressers aplenty. When most of the cast are male and most of the characters female, a liberal approach to gender issues is inevitable.

The Sydney Festival guide recommends the show for “adults and very brave children 8+” and indeed there are scenes of blood letting that require bravery from persons of all ages. You can however reassure the kiddies that no cute stuffed rabbits will be harmed.

It is the use of props like stuffed rabbits that bring a certain simplicity to the production. The actors present themselves as a band of gypsies who have just arrived in town. They walk around the foyer in singlets and y fronts, holding suitcases with the name of each character on the front. Costume literally maketh the character as each new person is introduced into the story, suitcases are opened and costumes are donned.

There is a small round screen above the platform which shows video images. This seems unnecessary given the amount of action on stage. In fact you could very easily watch the show without noticing the screen at all. The use of video and/or film seems to be en vogue at this year’s Sydney Festival. My Bicycle Loves You made use of old vaudeville style films which at times distracted the audience from action on stage. While I am in favour of this multi-media approach to theatre, there is always a huge temptation to use video for the sake of it. Theatre makers should only use video when it ads to and compliments what is happening on stage.

Musicians, Stu Baker and Ian Ross sit at the side of the stage playing, horns, guitars and accordions. This adds to the gypsy feel of the piece. Live music should always be encouraged in theatre gives an extra presence and energy.

The Red Shoes is highly recommended for anyone who delights in the strange and macabre.

Sydney Festival in association with Arts Projects Australia
The Red Shoes
Kneehigh Theatre

Director Emma Rice

Venue: York Theatre | Seymour Centre, Chippendale
Dates/Times: January 18-22, 25-29 at 8.15pm | January 22-23, 29-30 at 2.15pm
Duration: 1hr 30mins, no interval
Tickets: $70 - 60
Bookings: Sydney Festival 1300 668 812 | Seymour Centre 02 9351 7940 | Ticketmaster 1300 723 038

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