First published in The Times, Monday June 13 2022
This major production of Sunshine on Leith may have originated at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, but it is only fitting that a revival of the hit musical featuring the songs of those Hibs-supporting sometime-Leith-dwellers The Proclaimers should include a run in the capital.
At times the atmosphere in the auditorium resembles the frenzy that greets the King’s legendary annual panto, with the audience chuckling appreciatively at references to local landmarks and singing along wholeheartedly.
The playwright Stephen Greenhorn, who wrote the show for Dundee Rep in 2007, has updated his book to include mention of everything from Brexit to Netflix to Fifty Shades of Grey. In one poignant scene, characters discuss going for a coffee in Jenners, the Princes Street department store that has stood empty since the onset of the pandemic, leading to regretful murmurings in the stalls.
Even with this reboot, Sunshine on Leith can’t avoid the problems that bedevil all jukebox musicals, with narrative and character credibility stretched to breaking point in favour of the next entry from the back catalogue.
In Greenhorn’s story about a pair of soldiers returning to Scotland and falling in love with two nurses, the ballads Misty Blue and Make My Heart Fly are a perfect fit. On the flip side, Letter from America, a sophisticated song about Scots emigration, is reduced to a plea for correspondence.
It seems almost churlish to complain about these jarring transitions when the audience is so passionately invested in the songs. To this end, Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti, the show’s directors, and Richard Reeday, the musical director, have assembled a strong group of instrumentalists, who weave in and out of the dramatic action and go full throttle on the showstoppers.
Connor Going is the standout among the principals as Davy, the kindly ex-soldier who strikes up a relationship with his sister’s best friend, and Alyson Orr gives a lovely rendition of the title song, movingly performed against the backdrop of Adrian Rees’s Edinburgh skyline design. Everyone has a good time during the climactic performance of Scotland’s alternative national anthem I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), though it’s hard to shake the feeling that dramatic storytelling has always played second fiddle to the musical element in this show.
To June 18; Pitlochry Festival Theatre, June 24-October 1. Capitaltheatres.com