Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Red Shoes - review

Written by: Naomi Lawson (@NaomiMLawson)

Etcetera Theatre, London


Battling through a snowy Camden to the Etcetera Theatre, surrounded by the young and trendy making their way to equally trendy bars, one experiences a London that is a far cry from the one Guy Jones deals with in his adaptation of the classic fairy tale The Red Shoes. Under MaryClare O’Neill’s direction, this Straight on Till Morning Theatre production promises a combined tale of two girls with an illicit attraction to a pair of red shoes, one residing in the world of Hans Christian Andersen, and the other in the aftermath of the 2011 London riots. Promises and reality, however,  do not always coincide. 

The Hans Christian Andersen tale is one of rags to riches, where a young girl becomes vain and possession obsessed, and her attachment to a forbidden pair of red shoes comes with the ultimate punishment. The shoes become stuck to her feet, and force the girl to dance without stopping, until the only option is to cut off her feet. The story’s warnings against materialistic tendencies, and its inclusion of a punishment that seems much worse than the crime perpetrated, definitely hold resonance with the witch-hunt that followed the chaos of the riots. The second tale occurs in parallel to the first. In a brief scene at the beginning, we see a young London girl being interrogated after climbing through a broken shop window and taking a pair of red shoes. If she does not divulge information surrounding the riots, she will face jail; her interrogators leave her to ‘think about it’. Here the story unfolds into the re-telling of the first tale. Once finished, we return fleetingly to the interview room, where the girl is interrogated once more and, with no answer, the play ends.

Separately, the two parts are well written. Jones successfully captures the voice of a young girl in trouble in both worlds. There is particular wit to the 2011 setting, where the facetiousness of a London teenager mixes with an innocent fear of punishment;  as for the fairy tale setting, it is written with a pace that takes the audience dancing through the journey of the young girl Karen. What the show lacks, however, is a real sense of connectivity between these two stories. Using the riots to explore the play’s themes is certainly an admirable notion, but perhaps one that isn’t fully realised. Of course no play should spoon-feed its audience, but the abrupt ending leaves too many questions, which could be solved if the production intertwined the two tales instead of jumping from one section to another.

That said, the other aspects of the production are solid. O’Neill’s direction transforms Jones’ words using a wealth of movements and characterisations that give the piece a real energy, an energy matched by the vibrancy of the acting. All four actors (Ewa Jaworski, Lucas Rush, Eddie Fallon and Benedikte Faulkner) are commendable, with Jaworski undertaking the roles of the two girls, and showing some of the parallels between them, with a combination of feistiness, vanity and vulnerability. Rush, Fallon and Faulkner adopt the tales’ varied roles with great ease, Rush and Faulkner in particular demonstrating a fantastic range of facial contortions that add both comedy and darkness to their different characterisations. Roma Yagnik’s music reinforces the tone of the play, adding a dark and mystical quality that reminds us that fairy tales do not always come with a happy ending.  

It is a play of great potential. Perhaps an extended running time would have allowed for more development of the 2011 world, and a greater link between the two tales. But overall, their ambitions are praiseworthy, and their message most certainly attention-worthy.

This production was part of the PNPA festival which runs throughout January.
@EtceteraTheatre @straightontill

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