Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh – until 4 May 2019
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Local Hero, the Lyceum’s co-production with the Old Vic, has the authenticity and drive one would expect considering the source material, but fails to add much that is new.
Bill Forsyth’s much-loved 1983 film follows the well-worn path from big screen to stage musical, with a book credited to Forsyth and the Lyceum’s David Greig, with songs by Mark Knopfler (composer of the movie’s soundtrack).
The plot remains faithful to the original, with temptations to update it to the Trump era firmly avoided. An American oil executive is despatched to Scotland to buy up a village for a refinery. The beauty of the surroundings starts to affect him, while the locals are largely happy to sell up if the money is right.
There has been some tweaking of the roles, with those of Mac the oil executive and the hotelier’s partner Stella taking on some of the plot developments given to other characters in the original. However, it is certainly close enough to the source not to upset fans of the film.
Cynical observers might suggest that yet another film-turned-musical owes its origins to financial considerations rather than artistic ones. It is strange to report, then, that much about this is decidedly low-key, with the gently ruminative feel of the original much in evidence.
Reflective folky ballads are much more common than big production numbers, the ending is still bittersweet and downbeat, and the humour provokes more wry smiles than belly laughs. Which is not to say that it is bad; rather that a great deal of it is oddly flat, and lacks the sparkle, fun and sheer cheek that attracts so may fans of musicals to the genre.
It is notoriously difficult to say whether a new musical’s songs will endure, as they tend to take a couple of hearings before they stick in the ear. There are a couple that do stand out. One is the chorus number ‘That’d Do Me’, as the inhabitants of Ferness dream of what to do with their possible riches, which provides one of the highest-energy moments. Another is the affecting ‘I Wonder If I Can Go Home Again’, which makes good use of traditional-sounding melodies.
A band featuring musicians from different genres, under MD Phil Bateman, discharge the tunes with energy and skill, but there are at least a couple of numbers too many, particularly in the second half. Even Dave Milligan’s ever-imaginative orchestrations cannot stop the music from starting to sound a trifle samey.
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There is no doubting the skill of the performers – Damian Humbley’s Mac is tuneful and affecting, with Humbley managing the character’s doubts as well as his 80s yuppie flash. Katrina Bryan, probably best known to viewers of CBeebies, is a very fine Stella, displaying a commendable emotional range.
Matthew Pidgeon’s hotelier-lawyer-accountant Gordon has a puckish charm, while Julian Forsyth has a compelling gravitas as beachcomber Ben. Simon Rouse, as the eccentric oil boss Happer, has a sardonic twinkle that is very effective.
committed and versatile
The entire fifteen-strong company are committed and versatile, with John Crowley’s direction authoritative. The staging is at its best when it is least ambitious, and least sure when it tries too hard.
Simon Rouse, Matthew Malthouse, Adam Pearce, John McLarnon, Suzie McAdam, Joanne McGuinness, Caroline Deyga, Helen Logan, Emmanuel Kojo. Pic: Stephen Cummiskey
The video design of Luke Halls, for example, is technically impressive, but attempts to replicate the film’s much-loved vistas would be better left to the imaginations of the audience. Scott Pask’s design, meanwhile, impresses most when it is comparatively simple. Lucy Hind’s movement direction is fluid and believable rather than tending towards hoofing.
Much of this owes more to the Scottish tradition of homespun musical theatre (what might be called the post-Cheviot strand) rather than high-concept, all-singing-all-dancing West End spectacle. It is none the worse for that, but it remains to be seen how audiences will take to it when it reaches London.
There is no shortage of charm on display. Whether that is enough to make this musical a long-running success in its own right is another matter.