Scottish Ballet Present Highland Fling
***** 5 stars
In Matthew Bourne’s update of the 19th century ballet La Sylphide James, an unemployed welder, parties with Effie, his bride-to-be, and their friends at the Highland Fling social club’s disco in the tough back streets of Glasgow. A Sylph, an other-worldly sprite, appears to him while he’s slumped in the loos. The next morning, the badly-hung-over boys are roused into life by the girls who come to get everything ready for the wedding. The Sylph appears a number of times, creating havoc and making James’ behaviour appear most bizarre to the others, who can’t see her. James abandons Effie and follows the Sylph to a wood outside the city, where he encounters more of her kind: he persuades his Sylph to leave them and join him in the mortal world, with tragic results.
The very lively first half has five guys and five girls, including the soon-to-be bride and groom drinking, popping pills, sniffing stuff and dancing, flirting, fighting and falling-out in a wonderful variety of tartan-themed costumes. So much is going on it’s impossible to see it all, or to make complete sense of the complex web of relationships – Madge loves James, Gurn loves Effie, Angus loves himself, Ewan is confused, Morag is a victim, Jeannie is a fashion victim, Dorty is the bridesmaid and Robbie the best man: all excellently portrayed three-dimensional characters. The morning after reveals some surprises in the flat, which the horribly hung-over boys (painfully accurately observed and portrayed) try to hide when the girls arrive – and there is yet more confusion when the Sylph appears to tease and entice James. The wedding takes place, and Gurn is disconsolate – but the Sylph reappears in the middle of the photo-taking, and James rushes off in hot pursuit.
Alone in the woods, James has not learned to beware of women with wings! The original Sylphides were all women: here we have some gender-bending sylphs, five kilted men alongside seven be-skirted women, which allowed some nifty lifts. At first they welcome and caress the handsome kilted youth, but turn on him and reveal their true nature when – oh the stupidity of the man wanting to cut off the wings of his Sylph once she’s chosen to go with him! Of course she dies, and the rest of the pack turns on him. As the Bells ring out on Hogmanay, Effie sits disconsolately in the flat: Gurn tries to comfort her as James, now be-winged flutters outside the window…
The individual characters in the first half are brilliantly portrayed: the ensemble of the corps of Sylphides in the second act is superbly in synch. The dancing is breath-taking, and the choreography makes much use of clapping hands and slapping feet, while the Sylphides make very expressive use of percussive out-breaths to add another dimension to the music. The score by Herman Severin Løvenskjold, expressively played by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra, is a joy – such a treat to have a live band instead of the increasingly prevalent pre-recorded music! Christopher Harrison is outstanding as James, and his Sylph, Sophie Martin, is tragically fragile. Bethany Kingsley Garner, Araminta Wraith, Jamie Reid, Thomas Edwards, Marge Hendrick, Andrew Peasgood, Barnaby Rook Bishop, Claire Souet and Constance Devernay play their individual characters with great attention to detail, while unaccredited Artists of Scottish Ballet display enviable flexibility and send shivers up the spine as the Sylphides.
Highland Fling is yet another outstanding work from Matthew Bourne move heaven and earth to see it! Apart from his own company, Scottish Ballet have sole rights to perform this work – so make sure you get to see it in Edinburgh [to 14 April], or when it goes on tour to Orkney, Shetland, Argyll and Lewis.
Scottish Ballet presents “Highland Fling” ,Festival Theatre, Edinburgh run ends Saturday 14th April for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/highlandfling
Tour Continues to Lerwick, Kirkwall , Oban and Stornoway
Review by Mary Woodward