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Red Shoes

As her adaptation of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg opens in the West End, here’s a final chance to catch a revival of the play which first brought Emma Rice and her quirky Cornwall-based Kneehigh company to national notice over a decade ago.

As a touring company, Kneehigh are used to creating maximum effect with minimal props – so even before the show begins four hollow-eyed men and one woman (dressed only in grubby vests and underpants, their hair cropped close) are to be found wandering with blank expressions round the wonderful space of this Grade II listed building (formerly the local town hall but now home to Battersea Arts Centre) where this show first found a temporary London base.

Seated on benches (cushions are provided), we watch as they scrub their feet and don various costumes to enact the story of the orphan who, by pretending they’re a sober black, tricks the blind woman who raises her into buying her the pair of bright red shoes (heavy clogs in this instance) which prove to be her downfall.

Based primarily on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, but fleshed out with vaudevillian bits of business, it’s an unnervingly tragic tale, dripping with blood and executed with Kneehigh’s distinctive physicality and low-tech inventiveness. A shabby brown suitcase becomes a coffin, a headstone, part of a car. The red shoes fly tauntingly overhead on a fishing rod and, instead of curtains, we get scruffy wooden doors and a raised set (flanked by a pair of musicians who, between them play far more instruments than I could keep track of).

Giles King’s Lady Lydia in drag comperes the proceedings, whilst Patrycja Kujawska brings a desperate intensity to the part of the Girl who can’t stop dancing and Mike Shepherd relishes his role as the Butcher. The piece is, slightly, showing its age, but it still makes for engrossing theatre and (speaking as someone who, apart from forays to the South Bank, rarely makes it South of the river) well worth the short overground journey by train. 

4/5

Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, Battersea, SW11 5TN
Rail: Clapham Junction
020 7223 2223
bac.org.uk
Until 9th April
£22.50 - £25

- Louise Kingsley


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