Dublin’s Gate Theatre continues to push theatrical boundaries in Artistic Director Selina Cartmell’s first season, themed The Outsider. Following The Great Gatsby and Tribes, the theatre’s Christmas offering is a bold version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Red Shoes. The fairytale about an orphan girl’s passion for a pair of bright colorful shoes is about, among other things, the sin of vanity, and contains a great deal more darkness than you might remember. In playwright Nancy Harris’s modern retelling, vanity and darkness are still present, along with a great deal of comedy and satirical barbs at a certain Irish capacity for snobbery and hypocrisy. There’s magic too, of course, but it’s a magic with a distinctive earthiness.
In Cartmell’s hands, aided by Monica Fawley’s inventive set and costume design, the Gate stage becomes a carnivalesque parody of a family home, a haunted forest, and the scene of a truly weird fairytale ball that would send Walt Disney spinning in his grave. The talented ensemble cast of eight includes veterans Rosaleen Linehan, Owen Roe, and Marion O’Dwyer. O’Dwyer’s hoity-toity society hostess gets the best lines, and delivers them with panache: her faux-posh pronunciation of the word ‘very’ is not soon forgotten. The play is served with sides of satire, despair, and a knowing fourth-wall breaking, and it’s arguable that it doesn’t quite succeed in having its magical cake and eating it too. For all that, though, The Red Shoes is still a highly enjoyable evening out. It runs until January 27th.