JOYCE MCMILLAN on RED SHOES at the Tramway, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 16.12.13.
3 stars ***
THE IMAGE on the programme cover shows a cheerful tiny tot in red boots marching along a winding road, with the towers of a great city in the background. In truth, though, Judith Williams’s Red Shoes, playing at the Tramway this festive season, is anything but the cheery, accessible show for young children implied in the image. With a credited creative team of more than 20 people, a set big enough to sit comfortably in the main Tramway space, and a cast of five – including four musicians, led by music associate Kevin Lennon – Red Shoes is partly inspired by Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s feminist classic Women Who Run With Wolves; and what emerges is a complex 55-minute modern meditation on the original Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, probably best appreciated by adults and older children who already know the story.
Within those limits, though, Red Shoes offers a powerful combination of music, movement and song, with Williams delivering a vibrant, disturbing and beautifully-sung performance as a country child born close to nature – with the five musicians playing various birds and animals – who is gradually seduced by the bright lights and wealth of the city, symbolised by the iconic red shoes, which make her dance ever faster. The music is powerful, ranging from bird songs to sultry jazz; the installation-like set is impressive, and beautifully lit by Paul Sorley. And in the end, Judy Two Shoes’s gorgeous little wooden songbird comes winging back to her; symbolising a reunion with nature, and a possible fresh start.