A review by Bernie Whelan for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Kneehigh on tour presents

The Red Shoes



Written and directed by Emma Rice

Battersea Arts Centre

2 Mar - 9 April 2011


Hans Christian Anderson's The Red Shoes is a dark morality tale of a girl's vanity, punished by a lifetime of torture ending with redemption, but only after horrific mutilation and penance through drudgery. The genuis of Kneehigh is their ability to take this perennial story of obsession and suffering as an empty vessel and fill it with references which resonate with a contemporary audience, while leaving it open enough to allow many interpretations to proliferate.

Kneehigh are celebrating the 30th birthday of the Battersea Arts Centre, and the shaven headed cast in their underwear moved around the foyer carrying brown suitcases, sitting strangely with the cake and champagne served for the occasion. The silent but comic process of their arrival on stage only to set about washing their feet allowed the audience time to look and think about context. The idea of refugees was inescapable, with the fearful and tentative expressions of both cast and on stage musicians, all with shaved heads and clothed only in vest and Y-fronts, silently questioning each other if it's alright to be here. With the arrival of Maitre d' Lady Lydia (Giles King), things became even more Brechtian. As the wise witch who narrates the story and warns The Girl (Patrycja Kujawska) of danger, Lady Lydia also directs the players, choosing who is to play each role, involving the audience in the process with his exasperated facial expressions. At one point, Mike Shepherd playing The Preacher, The Angel and The Butcher bellowed at a press reviewer to stop writing, shouting 'This is serious you know!' Other classic Brechtian techniques used to tell the story included the dynamic use of folk dance to music composed and performed by the talented Stu Barker, superbly dramatic lighting by Malcolm Rippeth and a creatively metamorphosing set by Bill Mitchel which included signs painted on the suitcases to remind the audience to keep up.

The meat and bones of the performance are provided by the three Beckettian clowns. Dave Mynne came out of retirement to play The Old Lady and The Preacher's wife as well as the whole congregation using a versatile felt hat and an amazing array of accents, walks and facial expressons. Robert Luckay was seductive and menacing as the Shoemaker and Soldier. Mike Shepherd's amazing levitation as Justine has to be seen to be believed. This is very physical theatre. Patrycja Kujawska's dancing was wild, exuberant and terrifying as the shoes took their toll. The cast communicated with each other and the audience throughout with a courage and honesty I have rarely seen on any stage.

There is so much to say about this brilliant piece of theatre it is almost impossible to review. In Emma Rice's almost faithful retelling of the story, a Mephistophelian shoemaker (Robert Luckay) invites the downtrodden Girl to give way to her desire for joy, and from the moment she puts on The Red Shoes, she comes alive to a world of possibility, although her choice inevitably comes with a terrible cost. If the choice is between conformity or freedom, Emma Rice cannot bear to condemn her female Faust when the time comes, any more than Goethe could. It is a vital tale for 'those who dare to dance a different dance'. Don't miss it.

Battersea Arts Centre
Lavender Hill, London SW11 5TN
Evenings: 7.30pm: Sat mat: 2pm: Every Friday, stay late and party with the cast and BAC.
Tickets from £17.50
Box Office: 020 7223 2223

Copyright © EXTRA! EXTRA All rights reserved