By Kenneth Jones
27 Nov 2010

Hannah Yelland and Tristan Sturrock in Brief Encounter
photo by Joan Marcus

Brief Encounter is so rich with music. What role does music play in The Red Shoes, and is it original music?
ER: It's a complete mixture. It's original music that's being played live, but it's also interwoven with soundtrack music, so it's a real fusion, which I think, again, really adds to that contemporary fairy-tale quality. It's as if you've broken the mirror of your life, and watching it fall back into fragments in slightly different order.

When you're working on a new piece, is it very improv-rich in the room? Is it "play"?
ER: Absolutely. It's very hard to describe process. I think I have a very strong idea of why we're telling the story and what kind of world I want the story to live in, but then once I've created those very strong boundaries, then there's an awful lot of play, and that's when the actors and the performers and the musicians and the writers bring great wealth into the room, and where you really cash in on the collective imagination rather than the individual one. But it's certainly not free-for-all. I do have very, very clear guidance about what it is we're searching for.

Do you laugh a lot in the room?
ER: All the time. There's nothing better than making a piece of work. Everything's on the edge. I mean, that's why laughter happens all the time. Not only are people very funny, and I have the privilege of working with the most exceptional people, but you're making terrible mistakes, as well. People fall over, people say the wrong thing, people have strong ideas that don't work. Just that level of play is very funny, so we have absolutely the best of times. And because we all trust each other very much and the work is very strong, it's very safe. If you do fall over and do something embarrassing, then that's marvelous. We celebrate that.

Although The Red Shoes is not naturalism, as you say, can you tell me, plot-wise, what her name is and what happens to her in a very general way?
ER: Well, she has no name. She's called The Girl, which is very much a decision, because I feel this actually isn't about an individual. We're all The Girl. And her mother dies, and in her grief, she makes herself a pair of red shoes. And it's really about the fact that, even though she's sad at that point and bereaved, that she is herself. But an old lady comes along and takes her in and takes these shoes off her, scrubs her clean, dresses her and takes her to church. But what happens is, she falls in love with a pair of red shoes, and she can't stop thinking about them. She's told not to wear the shoes in church but she still does, and then she begins to dance and she loves this. And she dances and dances and dances across the hills until she thinks she'd like to stop, and she realizes she can't stop. …And then it goes very macabre and the red shoes swarm her, but she fights them off in my story, so she finds her way back to herself.

There's hope.
ER: Absolutely, there's hope. I've never found another version of "The Red Shoes" in which The Girl, the heroine, has lived and had a future, and that's absolutely what I've given her in this version.

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Reach him at

Watch highlights from Brief Encounter on Broadway: