Sunshine on Leith

Sunshine on Leith


King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

In Edinburgh, you’re never more than six feet away from a Proclaimer. Or, at least, from someone proclaiming their love for the Proclaimers. The affection is well-deserved. Craig and Charlie Reid are responsible for a multitude of absolute bangers: deceptively simple tunes, combining heart and anger, warmth and sadness. It was inevitable someone would say, ‘Hey, we could make a musical from these.’ (Cue: Stephen Greenhorn.) And equally inevitable that the resulting project would be a hit, a regular on stage since its 2007 debut, with a successful film adaptation to boot.

So there are no surprises here. We’re familiar with the show; of course we are. Nonetheless, there’s a palpable thrill in the air, because we know we’re in for a treat. This two-venue production – co-directed by Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti – is laden with symbolism: the first show since Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s revamp, and the last before Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre closes for its own refurbishment. It’s the perfect choice for both, a celebration of Scottish talent and a love song to the people of Caledonia.

There’s a low-key, homespun ambience, which works well, creating a sense of familiarity between the performers and the audience. There are no flamboyant costumes here, no fancy pyrotechnics. Instead, like the Proclaimers’ songs, it’s quietly clever – no showing off. The band doubles as the ensemble, and they appear to be a happy team, grinning at one another and at us, and vibing unselfconsciously. There are no barriers, which cements that feeling of intimacy, enabling us to empathise with the characters. This is no mean feat in a large, traditional theatre like the King’s, with its proscenium arch and imposing loges, all designed to accentuate the separation of stage and auditorium. It’s really very impressive.

The story is a Willy Russell-esque account of working-class life, told with affection and a strong sense of place. Ally and Davy (Keith Jack and Connor Going) are back in Leith, having been honourably discharged from the army, just in time for Davy’s parents’ thirtieth wedding anniversary party. Ally’s been going out with Davy’s sister for years, and he’s hoping now’s the time to settle down, but Liz (Blythe Jandoo) isn’t quite ready for that. She’s been stuck at home while he’s been away, and she’s restless, keen to stretch her wings. Her nursing pal, Yvonne (Rhiane Drummond), meanwhile, has fallen for Davy – and what is Davy’s dad, Rab (Keith Macpherson), hiding from his wife, Jean (Alyson Orr)? It’s a simple tale, but surprisingly affecting, and I find myself tearing up on more than one occasion. No spoilers, but the line “Because they wanted me” just hits me every time, and Orr’s rendition of the titular song is genuinely heartbreaking.

Adrian Rees’ set looks great. A miniaturised Edinburgh skyline is mounted on stilts, while the action occurs below – a neat representation of Leith and Edinburgh, the city looming over the town. There are ladders leading up to Blackford Hill; from here, we join the characters looking down on their home turf, trying to get a handle on their place in the world. The set comes apart, so that sections can be moved to create walls, but this is a distraction for me. It seems unnecessary and, although the transitions are thoughtfully choreographed, there’s too much clutter and stage traffic for very little gain.

In the end, this is all about the music (directed by Richard Reeday), and it’s a fabulous combination of the raucous and the refined. There are some issues with the sound – mics occasionally cutting out, and some imbalance between the vocals and the instrumentals – but none of it really detracts from the serious talent on display.

Sunshine on Leith has a relatively long run, so you’ve got until the 18th June to catch it here in Edinburgh – and to say “bye the nou” to the Old Lady of Leven Street.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield

Theatre Bouquets 2018




Another year, another plethora of exciting theatre. We’ve been moved, motivated and mesmerised by so much of what we’ve seen. And here, in order of viewing, are our favourites of 2018.

The Belle’s Stratagem – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh


This production looked ravishing, the brightly-hued costumes blazing against the simple monochrome set. Fast, furious and frenetic, this was a real crowd-pleaser.

Rhinoceros – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh


A truly glorious production, as witty and vivacious as it was prescient. There were some great comic turns, and the sensual, Middle Eastern-inflected music added to the mood of transformation.

Creditors – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh


We thought we’d seen all we wanted of Strindberg, but Creditors made us think again. Because this production was a prime example of the director’s art: the realisation of a vision that illuminated and animated the playwright’s words, breathing new life into old ideas.

Sunshine on Leith – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh


Sunshine On Leith was an absolute charmer. From the opening chords of the climactic I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), the entire audience was delightedly clapping hands and stamping feet with a force that seemed to shake the beautiful old theatre to its very foundations.

Home, I’m Darling – Theatr Clwyd, Yr Wyddgrug


A clever play, with a lot to say. Katherine Parkinson starred as Judy, a woman obsessed with the 1950s. Through her brittle fetishisation of the past, the script laid bare the problem with rose-tinted reminiscence and looked at the present with an eye that matched Judy’s gimlet cocktail.

Not in Our Neighbourhood – Gilded Balloon, Rose Theatre, Edinburgh


This powerful and compelling production, written and directed by Jamie McCaskill, tackled the difficult subject of domestic abuse and featured an astonishing central performance from Kali Kopae. We saw some superb acting at the Fringe this year, but this was singularly impressive.

Six the Musical – Udderbelly, Edinburgh


An inventive and exuberant pop-opera, which felt like the most exciting, vibrant history lesson ever. The band and actors powered effortlessly through a whole range of different musical styles, from straight pop to power ballad, from soul to Germanic disco. The songs featured witty lyrics which related the women’s experiences in modern day terms – and we’ve been obsessed with them ever since.

The Swell Mob – Assembly George Square, Edinburgh


The most genuinely immersive theatrical experience we’ve ever been part of. We were free to wander the 1830s tap room, replete with a real bar, and mix with a whole host of extraordinary characters: a crooked American doctor, a fortune teller, a soldier, a card-player… The more we engaged, the more was revealed… Superb and truly innovative.

Macbeth – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh


We were relieved and delighted that this touring production was so good. We knew that this interpretation of the play had been quite controversial, but it really worked for us. It captured the very essence of Macbeth and illuminated the themes and characters with great clarity.

The Unreturning – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh


A tale about young men and the shattering effect that war can have on them, simultaneously a requiem for the past and a chilling warning for our potential future. The haunting prose was augmented by incredible physicality as the actors ran, leapt, clambered and whirled around the stage in a series of perfectly choreographed moves.

Beauty and the Beast – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh


There’s panto – and then there’s panto at the King’s, where the ante is well and truly upped. Here, we were treated to an absolute master class in the form: there’s an art to making the precise look shambolic, the crafted seem accidental. And it was so funny – even the oldest, daftest jokes had us roaring with laughter.

Mouthpiece – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh


Powered by searing performances from Neve Macintosh and Lorn MacDonald, Mouthpiece was, quite simply, an astonishing play. Kieran Hurley’s ingenious circular narrative eventually brought the two protagonists head-to-head in a brilliant fourth-wall breaking climax.

Susan Singfield & Philip Caveney



Sunshine On Leith


A show set in Edinburgh, about Edinburgh people, with music by two of the city’s most celebrated sons… little wonder the King’s Theatre is rammed to the rafters this evening and even less wonder that the audience is lapping up every line of Stephen Greenhorn’s earthy script. Which is not to take anything away from Sunshine On Leith. This exuberant, warm-hearted musical has much to recommend it.

Davy (played tonight by John McLarnon) and Ally (Paul James Corrigan) are two young friends, recently returned from a punishing tour of duty with the British army in Afghanistan. Delighted to have emerged in one piece, they head back to their homes in Leith (not Edinburgh, mind you. The script takes great pains to point out that there’s a big difference). Ally is going out with Davy’s sister, Liz (Neshla Caplan), a nurse dreaming of a brighter future, and she arranges a blind date for Davy with a colleague, English girl Yvonne (Jocasta Almgill). The two soon strike up a relationship but how far is Davy prepared to go in order to secure their future? Meanwhile, Davy’s parents, Rab (Phil McKee) and Jean (Hilary Maclean), are approaching their 30th anniversary and preparing to celebrate – but something from Rab’s past appears like a bolt from the blue, threatening to jeopardise the couple’s long-standing relationship.

Sunshine On Leith is an absolute charmer, a celebration of working class experiences and aspirations. It’s beautifully and economically staged, the revolving sets giving a genuine feel for the various locations and there’s a band onstage throughout the show from which key members interact with the cast and, at times, even establish characters in their own right.  And of course, there’s the music of The Proclaimers, which is cleverly tied to the story and, unlike many pop-culture musicals I can think of, is never allowed to feel superfluous. Even if they’re not your cup of Irn Bru, you cannot deny the power of the Reid brothers’ music and, from the opening chords of the climactic I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), the entire audience is delightedly clapping hands and stamping feet with a force that seems to shake the beautiful old theatre to its very foundations. I’ve seen standing ovations here before, but they have rarely felt as well-earned or heartfelt as the one we witness tonight.

And if you don’t come out humming that poignant title song, well, there’s clearly something very wrong with you.

4.7 stars

Philip Caveney