Review: Highland Fling, Edinburgh

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AS the house lights dim and a chorus of Hey Donald Where’s Your Troosers? gives way to throbbing techno beats, the tone of Highland Fling is immediately established.

Festival Theatre * * * *

Subtitled A Romantic Wee Ballet and set in a nostalgic, fairytale approximation of Glasgow, Matthew Bourne’s take on August Bournonville’s La Sylphide is playful and gritty in equal measure.

It sees characters flash and cuckold each other, ingest hard drugs and even commit acts of domestic violence, all in the most graceful ways imaginable, yet retains a strong sense of morality throughout.

The story revolves around engaged couple James and Effie, whom we meet on the eve of their wedding as they enjoy a debauched night out with friends.

Emerging from separate nightclub toilets, the action spills onto the dance floor where disorientated James is subjected to all manner 
of temptation from which his devoted fiance is determined to rescue him.

It’s only when a mischievous sprite catches his attention that the otherwise passive protagonist begins to assert himself. He abandons his peers and ultimately deserts Effie in pursuit of the creature, his new relationship destined to end in tragedy.

The first act is as accessible as ballet gets, affording a talented cast the opportunity to excel at character driven storytelling.

The second, by contrast, is more in keeping with Bournonville’s almost classical vision.

Once James finds himself taken in by a group of sprites, the bawdy humour of previous scenes 
is played down in favour of a mysterious pagan elegance. Likewise, the pathos and violence found 
at the story’s conclusion could 
not be further removed from the cartoonish slapstick that precedes it.

This Scottish Ballet production marks the first instance in which Bourne has allowed one of his full length works to be staged by a company outside of his own, but the director’s cynicism and wit shines through in each dancer’s every movement.

The audience is engaged throughout, while the performers’ energy and enjoyment are nothing short of infectious. Encapsulating both the best and worst of the country, this production is an unmissable ode to Scotland.

n Ends tomorrow.