Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Sunshine on Leith" - December 2008

All last year I was skeptical about the whole concept of Dundee Rep's musical based on the songs of The Proclaimers - it just seemed too daft to work. Even when the glowing reviews were pouring in and the show received a number of CATS nominations I couldn't quite bring myself to believe it. So when the show was revived for a 2008/2009 tour we had to book up to see for ourselves if we had written it off unfairly. We had.

"Sunshine on Leith" is in every sense 'the real deal'. It's a grand, epic West End style musical , but with a distinctively Scottish flavour. Writer Stephen Greenhorn has managed to effectively weave the songs into a coherent story of three couples, and not only do they work as the stories of the individuals, he has also managed to retain some of the social and political themes inherent in the songs.

The six central characters are all brought vividly to life and the audience is quickly emotionally invested thanks to a very strong cast. As parents Rab and Jean, John Buick and Anne Louise Ross really pluck those heartstrings - particularly with Ross's rendition of "Sunshine on Leith". Gail Watson gets the chance to shine vocally as daughter Liz while Kevin Lennon gives a fine acting performance as her boyfriend Ally.

However, the couple the audience are pulling for most are son Davy (Keith Fleming) and girlfriend Yvonne (Denise Hoey). They have a tremendous chemistry on stage, combined with impressive vocals and beautifully nuanced portrayals of their characters. But it isn't just the six leads that make the show work - there is a massive contribution from a substantial ensemble who give the show its scale, and many get their own memorable moments along the way. And James Brining's direction keeps the action moving along and despite a run time of 2 hours 40 minutes the show simply flies in.

Sadly we did have a fairly significant problem with the sound levels and while it didn't spoil the show, it certainly hampered our experience. We were centrally located in row H of the stalls and in the more upbeat group numbers many of the vocals were in danger of being drowned out by the band to the extent that it was impossible to pick out lyrics - and it wasn't down to our west-coast ears. And disappointingly, on speaking to friends who had seen the show a week previously they had encountered the same problem. As a result we recommend picking up the cast recording CD at the performance for a bargain £10 - it gives you the opportunity to appreciate the lyrics you missed first time round. It's also just a brilliant set of songs and hasn't been out of our CD player since we got home.

Sunshine on Leith is a brilliantly entertaining piece of theatre, and even on a matinee performance managed to get the diverse audience suitably enthused. On leaving the show we overheard a group of teenagers who had clearly loved the show including one who hadn't wanted to come but thought it was "really brilliant" and another group who left singing the songs all the way down the road. And while the midweek matinee was an easier option for us, part of me does wonder if we missed out on what must be a pretty incredible Friday or Saturday night atmosphere.

Unfortunately the production may suffer from one of the issues raised within the show. While its Scottishness is a hugely integral part of its charm and heart, it is also what may limit its long term viability. It certainly has the quality in writing and cast that it could potentially command a wide audience around the UK, but I'm not quite sure Londoners are ready to take it to their hearts. It will certainly be interesting to see how the audience responds when the tour dips its toes south of the border with a short run in Coventry.

If you missed out on seeing it last year, don't make the same mistake again. Leave your skepticism behind and give it a chance - I find it hard to believe anyone leaves the theatre disappointed.

Sunshine on Leith runs at the Festival theatre, Edinburgh until 3rd January 2009 and then tours to Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow before finishing in Coventry at the end of February.

Image by Douglas McBride used with permission

2 Heckles

Bluedog said...

Interested to hear your take on this. Apparently this show is even better than it was first time around.

And we did think that while the Dundee Rep 'A' Team were away with Sunshime, their Christmas show with their 'B' team in Dundee would be a bit of a struggle.

But critics are giving it 4 and 5 stars (Dawson-Scott in The Times), and so we have booked in on the 23rd.

I badly need to update my own Blog!

Waldorf said...

Hope their Christmas show is good - we simply don't have time to head over to Dundee.

I'd definitely give Sunshine On Leith a try if you haven't already. I'm not the biggest fan of The Proclaimers (understatement) and had only heard of very few of their songs - none of which I particularly liked so I had huge reservations.

However I loved it, and having been driving Statler slightly mad by singing (which I'm dreadful at) since we saw the show.