The Red Shoes is a terrible tale. A girl who has no name – at least other fairy story victims are allowed wistful names like Snow White, Beauty, Cinderella – is punished in the most unimaginably cruel way for wanting to dance, as if joy is a crime that deserves torture and mutilation. A dark theme indeed, which Kneehigh Theatre embraces with total relish. The players creep in with shaven heads and Belsen faces and institution underwear, shivering their way to the stage and opening the story with a washing routine more Bedlam than bedtime story. Costumes became more varied but maintain their ugly crudity, with the exception of the fantastical Lady Lydia, our Host/Hostess, whose role like the voyeur "Master of Ceremonies" in Cabaret is to give ruthless commentary on the unfolding tragedy. "Shoes red with desire, shoes that bleed, that’s what all you girlies need."
But the crucifixal iconography which creates the church backdrop is a sinister symbol of oppression and cruelty: her red shoes are 'brighter than the bleeding heart' and the dreadful punishment is to dance endlessly until the butcher takes pity on her and cuts off her feet.
Is it the end of the nightmare as the crippled girl limps away on her brush crutches? No. Her dancing shoes, streaming blood from her severed feet, fly after her, and the torment continues until an angelic figure arrives to tell her "You have been redeemed"...
Is that the end? No. The girl resists, and the angel becomes brutal as they fight until her damaged stumps and wooden feet destroy him. Lady Lydia has the last words, obscure and menacing like so much of the performance: “My secret is reserved for those who dare to dance a different dance with me.”
Advertised for ‘adults and brave children’ yet though the violence- both emotional and visceral- is graphic and unflinching, the entire performance is laced with exuberant comedy and wild, beautiful, inventiveness. On stage musicians create the fantastic soundtrack to this minimally scripted and magnificent production. Patrycja Kujawska as The Girl is the supernova in a stella cast.
Saturday morning saw the final rehearsal of my play Consulting with Chekhov, with full props, and I've learned much about effective use of bondage tape. The spanker - which Dee acquired from Ann Summers by pointing wordlessly to the relevant data in her script - is thrillingly effective too, and I was delighted with the nuances of unease as well as sexiness brought to this theme of the symbiotic relationship between love and control.
The evening show, to a crowded house at the Alma Tavern, went brilliantly, and all I could manage in the questions-to-the-playwright bit at the end was say how appreciative I feel - to Theatre West, my director Pameli Benham, and the fabulous cast. And thanks too to everyone who laughed, applauded, and enjoyed the play.
And now I'm off to Languedoc, to the beautiful venue of Gardoussel in the Cévennes, to lead a writers' retreat, and hopefully to enjoy a final week of warmth before swapping my sandals for winter boots for another year.