Matthew Bourne’s Highland Fling is touring Scotland, and it’s the first ballet production I’ve watched on stage (that I can remember), with the exception of electronica ballet during the Fringe a few years ago. There was plenty of tartan, dark Scottish humour, and not a tutu in sight. For a first introduction to ballet, I loved it.
The two acts were very different, and while the initial act appealed to me most (with its humour, nightclub ballet and graffitied toilet stalls), my Mum (a ballet dancer as a young girl) loved the more classical, supernatural second half. Both were spectacular and the first had me laughing, but neither of us were quite prepared for how dark the ballet was about to become.
The story is a twentieth century take on La Sylphide, ‘the first major Romantic ballet in which the corps de ballet represented supernatural creatures.’ The Sylph entered and exited the stage in a wonderfully spooky manner with playful taunting, while the Scottish mortals fought with their own impulses, desires and real life drama in a Glasgow tenement.
Madge, based on the story’s witch (in August Bournonville’s version), is a drug dealer in love with James, the protagonist engaged to Effie – a bubbly girl who promises a safe and settled future. Madge stirs the pot by pulling out her tarot cards before she prophesies a future where James and Effie aren’t together. As it turns out she was right, as James is lured away by The Sylph – who we aren’t entirely convinced is real. Is she a hallucination brought on by drugs? A mere butterfly attracted to the bare lightbulb on the ceiling? Or is the forest glade outside Glasgow really teeming with supernatural creatures in the immortal world?
Romantic isn’t exactly how I would describe Highland Fling, known otherwise as Trainspotting: The Ballet. It’s dark, gritty, coarse and more eery than ‘fairy’ tale. The Scottish humour was welcome, and I loved hearing classics like Donald Whaur’s Yer Troosers? as a precursor to the live orchestra. My only comment would be that I couldn’t tune out the noise of the triangle – I wasn’t the only one who thought it sounded like a vintage phone ringing through most of the scores!
The costumes by Lez Brotherston were, in honesty, what caught my eye on the side of an Edinburgh bus before I rushed to buy a ticket – ballet in kilts and tartan trousers is a sight to behold. The exciting thing about this year’s production is that it will be touring beyond Scottish cities for its Highlands and Islands premier in Oban, Kirkwall, Stornoway and Lerwick. Get your tickets quick!
The tour is running until 4th May 2018.
Photos by Andy Ross. Costumes by Lez Brotherston.