Matthew Bourne’s Highland Fling – his updating of La Sylphide to near contemporary Glasgow – is a joyous romp. He floods the stage with action.
The heart of groom-to-be James is captured by an elfin Sylph while he’s lying in a urinal, off his head on drugs, at his own engagement party.
Christopher Harrison’s James catches the impetuous recklessness of youth about to settle down, while his human pals – among them Araminta Wraith as his drug-dealing ex Madge, Bethany Kingsley-Garner as fiancee Effie and Barnaby Rook Bishop as her ex, Gurn – are all given big ebullient characters, with costumes by Lez Brotherston to match.
This is so much more than just a good yarn. Bourne’s choreography both engages with the music and adds to the characters and their relationships. It perhaps overwhelms the score in the first half’s most uncouth moments, but that is balanced by his command of minutiae for Sophie Martin’s Sylph.
Martin is both charming and convincing. Her angularity and sparrow-like poise speaks of another world. In Act II, when she entices James off to the realm of the Sylphs – given a convincing reality by the corps de ballet – that world is made to seem both threatening and under threat from the intimacy between the Sylph and James.
It is in this conflict and interchange between James’ society gone feral and the natural, mystical fairy domain that the ballet’s own heart lies.
While some elements of Brotherston’s set and costumes, and some of the stage business, could do with a minor update, James’ failure to learn as he attempts to bring the Sylph back to the human world remains an enduring theme.