Glasgow’s Tramway has a reputation for cutting-edge visual and performing arts; so it’s something of a radical change for them to join Glasgow’s other theatrical venues with a festive show of any kind, not least one clearly aimed at providing younger audience members with something a bit different from the traditional pantomimes to be found in the city centre venues and at the SECC.
Possibly because they know they’re entering what is already a competitive performance market, the chosen image on the posters and programme is of a cheerful cartoon girl in red boots (with an Aardman-esque robin sitting on her bobble hat) marching up a winding road, with the smoking towers and glittering skyscrapers of some great city in the background.
Judith Williams’s Red Shoes, however, is neither the cheery, accessible pantomime that such an image might suggest, nor does it entirely fill the somewhat cavernous main Tramway space, even if Williams and four musicians–who provide an almost continuous, and invaluable soundtrack to the whole story while also playing a supporting cast of animals–do a pretty good job at holding the attention of the more restless audience members for nigh on an hour.
In part inspired by Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s feminist classic Women Who Run With Wolves, this Red Shoes is perhaps best suited for older children and adults who are already familiar with the original Hans Christian Andersen fairytale and so able to understand some of the narrative leaps that are not so clear here.
To its credit, Red Shoes is a powerful bringing together of music, movement and song; Williams delivers a measured, at times disturbing performance as the innocent young country child, born close to nature, who is lured to the city by its bright lights and wealth–symbolised by the titular red shoes which, once she puts them on, make her dance continually. The music, composed by Kevin Lennon, shifts from bird song to jazz, while the set–at times more art installation than kitchen sink realism—is lit with some originality by Paul Sorley.
There is much to impress in this show, not least Lennon’s frequent costume changes and the relaxed performances of the musicians, but there’s a lack of theatrical magic at this show’s heart, while the conclusion is perhaps just too trite for its own good. “Be The creature you are,” is the moral message delivered with little subtlety; in that respect at least, the show is certainly true to its own nature.