Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Lotta is born at a time when her mother’s confinement would have been disgraceful. Her run to the Nuns ended with her losing her life in giving that life to her daughter. Brought up by nuns, Lotta had one connection to her mother which was the red shoes left for her by mum. These had seen her mother dance into the affections of many. As a young girl Lotta stoutly defended her mother, found conflict with the nuns, discovered her own space and honour whilst also befriending young firebrand Jacob. Their growing up ends with her taking her legacy by the heels and tripping lights as she leaves domestic service for which she was sent and dances into the affections of a new Germany for which she was destined. Unfortunately, the timing of her dances may be perfect, but the timing of her growth unfortunate and the inevitable collision ends this historical warning with a potent image that is all too familiar.
Young Pleasance don’t do bad theatre. At least so far, they have even avoided good theatre, heading straight away for quite an exceptional piece of work – The Red Shoes is such work. This has all the ingredients of a company of young actors that know their strengths. The ensemble work is assured and lick. The set changes and cast changes are exceptional, the music sings more than a song and the script is built round the abilities and the nuances of a great cast.
Anderson Fairy Tales can be difficult because their morality can be questionable – The Ugly Duckling clearly is a Kardashian favourite – and I was concerned that the material might not deliver. I stopped worrying about that very early on…
The structure of the piece is what builds its strength. The way in which we have a tale told during a rich period of time which is both evocative of Cabaret but avoids comparisons because it takes a slightly different narrative tone. It oozes sexuality but avoids making overt references, it subtly gives us the time but avoids making the swastika a leitmotif, it may signpost what the unrequited love may be but does not clunk its way through delivering the message.
Good scripts come alive by the way in which the other theatrical elements come together to deliver, and boy do they deliver on theatre arts here. The set is clever, the costumes complete, the music spot on and the choreography slick. There is an assured direction which works spectacularly well.
The different Lotta’s and Jacobs shine equally, the way in which each cast member takes on a well-rounded character rather than some form of cipher that is badly used to drive the narrative is great. The direction is crisp and not over fussy but clever – loved the reveal of each new Lotta. The music gave us the time period and created a great platform for the dance and movement which was as impressive as the back flips and as together and diverse as the opening.
But let me say a word about the narrators; the script delivered a structure in which they framed the tale. It needs skill to take a narrator’s part and turn it into something a wee bit more than just a signpost for the cast. They made me relax. I felt in really assured hands and made it all come alive…
What worked best for me, however, was the final image. The way in which the shoes ended up on a pile with others to be burned like the books were in the Nazi regime was highly evocative. It made me think of those shoes on the White House lawn and whilst that may not have been the intention, theatre works when it creates an individual response. That was mine. It moved me and made me sit for a little while in contemplation. It moved me and made me realise that what I saw was a fairy tale for now and not just a warning from history – Go Be Moved.