By Jo Billington & Will Feasey with Tim Norton
Original music composed by Ned Bennett
August 15 – 18
And my Edinburgh Fringe is off to a good start with the Young Pleasance’s charming production for 2018, The Red Shoes! A re-imagining of the tale by Hans Christian Andersen, this (light on the music) musical follows the story of Lotta as she grows up in early 20th century Berlin. We see Lotta as she grows through three stages: her childhood as the orphanage’s wild child, her teenaged years working as a maid and then stumbling into cabaret performance, and finally her later years as a rich entrepreneur’s mistress and actress in Goebbel’s propaganda films. Throughout all this time, two things remain constant: Lotta’s best friend, a Jewish boy named Jacob, and the pair of red dancing shoes she inherited from her late mother.
This production is slick, with well-oiled choreography crafted for actors who are not trained dancers, and song numbers crafted for actors who are not trained singers. The costumes and sets are sumptuous and wonderful – adult Lotta’s film star outfit shone for the former, and a transparent gauze curtain was used to great effect for the latter when intimating flashbacks or detached worlds (such as the unreachable upper class audience watching Lotta perform). The ensemble class is strong, with the Narrators (Hannah Margerison and Kieton Saunders-Brown) inhabiting the most consistent roles, and performing them strongly. Margerison also played a key figure asthe mysterious friend who introduced Lotta to the world of performance – this double-casting carried interesting implications about whether the seemingly impartial, omniscient narrator was providing a guiding hand in Lotta’s fate.
Of the three Lottas, the youngest (played by Eliana Franks) certainly had the most energy and charisma; however, it may have been more of a problem with the writing than acting that the characterisation of this story’s lead felt like it lacked continuity. There were few similarities between Franks’ precocious and rebellious girlchild, Katie Walton’s naive and unsure teenager, and Eva Burton’s glamorous, selfish adult woman. Jacob, however – played by Theo Murchie and later Kishore Walker – seemed to remain the same idealistic, intelligent, and innocent young boy so captivated by Lotta’s charms. Other standout actors in minor roles included Ella Davis as the sharp-tongued Frau Pelzer, and Miles Rosbrook as the coldly villainous Franz.
This play, as we are informed almost immediately, is about temptation in all its forms: fame, fortune, love, belonging, and much more. It blurs the lines between a glittering glamour which is never quite within Lotta’s grasp, and the seedy, desperate, harsh reality which keeps chasing her. But once she has slipped her feet into those shoes, she cannot take them off until she has lived out her fate – and the final, powerful image spotlit on stage serves as a warning against the fickle nature of that which may tempt us.
This talented young cast is certainly one to watch – The Red Shoes is on at the Fringe until the end of this week, so hurry to catch it before it dances out of sight! Tickets available here.