Highland Fling – a Romantic Wee Ballet
Glasgow, Theatre Royal
27 April 2013
Trust is a wonderful thing when seeing a show. And when people look for entertaining dance they trust Matthew Bourne in droves – not just in Britain but around the world. He’s a bit like the dance equivalent of Nick Park, the creator of Wallace and Gromit and many other films. Neither is demonstrably arty or huge on self-publicity but both are quirkily British to the core and push back at us delightfully observant details of our (human) nature with all its foibles. They have impeccable taste on what will do well with the nation and we laugh at ourselves as much as anything because it’s all done with love and humanity. And so it was in Glasgow as the audience roared at the end Scottish Ballet’s premiere of Highland Fling with all its ‘interesting’ Scottish stereotypes and observations on modern-day urban love, sex and dreams.
Highland Fling is based on La Sylphide, one of the earliest ballet works still danced and usefully set in Scotland. It’s about the coming nuptials of James and Effie and the sudden appearance of a Sylph (or fairy) who he falls madly in love with and tries to make human. Nobody wins in a shocking twist near the end. Bourne relocates it all to the present day with clubs (it famously starts in a social-club urinal with pill-popping), council flats, mobility scooters and an urban wasteland – all grubbily realised in rich tartan detail by Lez Brotherston on fine form. Act 1 is really about fun and growing love (if one feels sad for the innocent Effie) and act 2 about love realised, sex and consequences in a forest glade wasteland inhabited by many Sylphs and small furry animals (I will say no more, but joy awaits). The sex is wonderful – but don’t worry, Hamish in Pitlochry. Musically it retains the magical Lovenskiold score but adds in a few Scottish popular songs of the Andy Stewart variety – more smiles of recognition.
For Scottish Ballet it’s a change with not a pointe shoe in sight. The dance is wide-ranging and often fast-paced and meaty even (especially in act 2) but most of all it brings out their acting and sense of fun and pathos. It was led out by recently-promoted Christopher Harrison as James and Sophie Martin as the Sylph, both giving believable accounts of a doomed affair. And Katie Webb seemed a definitive jilted Effie who tugs at our heart strings. James, you were a fool!
It’s the first time Bourne has allowed one of his works to be put on by another company – full marks to him for going with it and to Scottish Ballet’s director, Christopher Hampson, for making it happen. A hit with me and I’m so glad it’s a great success in the company’s home and a great calling card for touring. It’s a particularly useful broadening of Scottish Ballet’s repertoire. There will be deeper nights of ballet of course, but for now… Donald, Whaur’s me Troosers?