by Chris Haire
Although The Red Shoes doesn't officially open until tomorrow, the first batch of Spoletians to catch the latest from Kneehigh Theatre will get to do so tonight during a special preview performance.
The buzz is already high for this one, but we're betting the chatter is only going to get louder, especially once people begin talking about the play's signature scene.
In this bit — and we've got to throw out a spoiler alert here, so stop reading now if you don't want to know what happens — the girl with the red shoes, desperate to get the shoes off her feet, takes a trip to a butcher to see if he can lend a hand, er, cleaver, and, well, you can guess what happens.
While you may know exactly what the butcher does with his cleaver, nothing can really prepared you for how it plays out. It's quite a deliciously clever and decidedly devilish little scene, one that will provoke guffaws and gasps.
We had a chance to speak with the butcher himself, Kneehigh Theatre's co-artistic director Mike Shepherd, about his inspiration for the character.
"He's based on my local butcher," Shepherd says. "He's a lovely, lovely man. He's so helpful. And, of course, he's pulling the guts out of things and he's chopping the heads of things."
Shepherd adds, "You're not playing, as in the Hans Andersen story, the executioner. You're playing the opposite, this light, very helpful, happy man, who does this terrible deed."
A co-founder of Kneehigh back in 1980, Shepherd says that the scene with the butcher has had a noticeable effect on audiences. "We've had quite a few people faint at the moment of chopping off her feet, but that happens behind doors."
He adds, "To me that encapsulates why we do theater, because you work the imagination of the audience. I find that really gratifying in a world where we are used to seeing the insides of people and splinters of bone through film — it's so graphic. But actually put people in a simple situation where they are not seeing anything, but they are being asked to use their imagination, it's much more powerful than anything we could have shown them."
So what are you waiting on? Buy a ticket and see the scene that everyone will be talking about for yourself.