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    Theatre and Dance Previews

    Etta Murfitt
    Etta Murfitt

    Etta notes Bourne’s supremacy

    A ballet where the hero has a drink problem may sound unusual but when Matthew Bourne is involved anything is possible! Associate Director Etta Murfitt tells us about Highland Fling and how she loves working with Bourne.

    Highland Fling

    Wycombe Swan

    22-26 February 2005

    Eves: 8.00pm

    Wed & Sat: 2.30pm

    Matthew Bourne is famous for his exciting new takes on favourite classic pieces. His New Adventures in Motion Pictures company has been responsible for an all-male Swan Lake and The Car Man, which re-located the opera Carmen to America’s mid-west and crossed it with the film The Postman Always Rings Twice to make a sexy new ballet.

    So when you find out that his re-working of La Sylphide involves the hero having a drink problem you shouldn’t be surprised. And it’s not as different to the original as you might imagine!

    When you think about it, this take has its roots in the original and in updating it, Bourne has made it accessible to a new young audience with characters that they can relate to.

    Highland Fling
    Highland Fling

    Highland Fling is an edgy new take on the classical romantic ballet La Sylphide, where Bourne has relocated the action from the misty Scottish Highlands to a block of high rise flats in modern day Glasgow.


    It tells the story of James, a young Glaswegian who is lured from his nuptial bed by an unearthly siren. It’s always been a Scottish ballet but in this production the hero, who was a crofter in the original, becomes an unemployed welder living in a high rise flat, who has a drink and drug problem which leads him to hallucinations and ‘trips’.

    As his love for the strange and beautiful ‘Sylph’ becomes an obsession, he embarks on a fateful journey that takes him from the mean streets and nightclubs of Glasgow into a magical world beyond reality and reason.

    But as Associate Director Etta Murfitt explains, the way that this ‘say no to drugs’ version has been updated makes it accessible to a new audience as the characters are real people that can be identified with.

    "This is very much aimed at a young audience, teenagers and those in their 20s, because it’s about going out on a Saturday night and binge drinking and taking drugs" she says. "It’s something that they can relate to."

    And, as she points out, the roots of the idea that his visions are due to a ‘substance’ are in the romantic ballet movement.

    "By the end you will probably think that maybe you should cut down on your drinking at weekends!"
    Etta Murfitt

    "In many traditional ballets characters hallucinate because they’ve taken opium so there are some parallels" she says.

    "But I think it’s more believable to think he’s taken a bit too much of something and has fallen into a heady sleep and sees this Gothic nightmare creature with human characteristics."


    Like the original, the production is set on James’ wedding day as he is about to marry his childhood sweetheart Effie. He keeps having visions of a sylph but whereas in the original this character is a supernatural heroine, in this new version she’s wild and different and represents excitement to him.

    She’s challenging him to get away from what she sees as his dull, ordinary existence and lures him away from his wife to be. But as Etta explains, this character is not a manifestation of the woman that James really wants.

    "This creature doesn’t represent James’ ideal lover - but something he is lacking in life" she continues.

    "He wants to get out of the life that he’s in. He’s going to marry Effie who he sees as good and innocent and thinks she is his way out, but in his mind he wants something completely different."

    Highland Fling therefore is about real people who have real experiences which turn into fantasy. But as we all have our fantasies and dreams, it’s easy to transpose the story to a modern day setting.


    Highland Fling
    The sylphs in Highland Fling

    This production of Highland Fling has been re-worked and updated even further since its first outing over ten years ago.

    It was originally premiered at the Bristol Arnolfini in Spring 1994 and made its London debut at Sadler’s Wells Lilian Baylis Theatre later that year. It subsequently played London seasons at The Place Theatre and The Donmar Warehouse. For this tour it has been substantially re-choreographed and redesigned and will feature nearly twice the original number of dancers.

    Etta was in the original production and explains how they re-worked it.

    "About 18 months ago we looked at it again and did some workshops" she says.

    "We talked about it and looked at what could be better and if the story could work in a different way.

    "The good thing about this is that there were seven people originally and now there are 11 so we’ve created four new characters for the story" she continues. "We’ve also looked at the set and adapted that a bit so it’s the same but better!

    "We always try to develop and change and make things work better when we re-look at productions, and for Matt one of his main concerns is to make sure that the story gets across and that people can relate to it."


    Matthew Bourne loves to tell his audience a story and as Etta confirms, this is a very good reason to come along.

    "It’s a great story firstly" she says. "You get really involved with the characters and you want to know what happens to them. It’s a fantastic story that takes you to places you won’t expect."

    But it’s certainly not advocating 24 hour drinking?!

    "No" she laughs. "By the end you will probably think that maybe you should cut down on your drinking at weekends!"

    Etta has been working with Bourne’s New Adventures in Motion Pictures Company since 1991 and is now an Associate Artist. Listening to her it’s easy to understand why she’s stayed so long.

    "I’m emotionally attached to it now and I guess that’s why I’ve stayed so long" she says. "I’ve helped to develop this style of narrative dance that no one else does.

    "Matt is such a great person to work with and we have such a great laugh" she continues.

    "We spend half our time laughing and we never spend time tearing our hair out wondering what we are going to do. Ideas come to us easily because it is such an open environment. If anybody in the company has an idea we look at it and work at it.

    "Everybody has the chance to develop their own characters and movement of that character" she adds. "You have so much freedom with Matt - he allows you to do what you want to do - although he does reign you in if necessary!"


    She says she feels that what they create really allows them to connect with their audience, and that’s one of the things that made her join his company in the first place.

    "I had been doing a lot of physical theatre and virtually beating myself up" she explains.

    "The audience clapped politely at the end but I never felt like I really connected with them.

    "Then I saw my first New Adventures in Motion Pictures piece and I loved it. I laughed out loud and saw that they connected with the audience so much.

    "I wanted to do something like that so when I got the opportunity to work with Matt I said YES immediately!" she added.

    "We get this amazing audience reaction and you really feel like you’ve touched someone. That’s why I love it."

    She also enjoys the fact that she’s been able to play such a wide range of roles.

    "I’ve been able to play so many different characters and I’ve even sung!" she says.

    "There are not many dance companies where you can do everything. I’m incredibly lucky. I’m one of the few people in contemporary dance who has managed to keep working."


    Etta is currently taking a break from performing, and while she has always combined directing with dancing, she has enjoyed concentrating on the former.

    "I decided to have six months off from dancing as it’s been pretty ‘full on’ for me for the past couple of years" she explains.

    "I thought I’d give my body a rest as it was very fatigued, but I’ve really enjoyed doing more directing. I think when I go back to dancing I’m hoping to do more character based roles and not so much heavy dancing."

    And while she is still massively busy, combining managing the company on tour with looking after a nine-year-old daughter (who thinks most dancing is quite boring!) she says that she has noticed that she does have more time. She also knows that she won’t be able to keep away from the stage for long.

    "I do have more time at the moment because I don’t have to do class which is great!!" she laughs. "But I know I will get a bit itchy and sooner or later I will go back."

    She hopes that regular exercise means that this process won’t be too difficult, but is still prepared to work at it.

    I’m getting on a bit now for a dancer but I still do Pilates and swimming and keep my body ticking over" she explains. "As for going back I know it will be difficult but I’m prepared for it."

    Listen to Matthew Bourne talking about Highland Fling using the link on the right-hand side.

    last updated: 22/02/05
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