Local Hero review – musical with a moral heart

Royal Lyceum theatre, Edinburgh
Bill Forsyth’s adaptation of his 1983 film, with new music by Mark Knopfler, is topical all over again

Bill Forsyth’s lighthearted story has a strong moral undertow. When the daily life of the close-knit but cash-strapped community in a small Scottish fishing village is disrupted by the arrival of an oil executive from Houston, an existential question arises: how to balance valuation against values? Mac’s mission is to buy Ferness - lock, stock and lobster creel - so that his Texas-based company can build a humongous refinery on its beautiful, sandy bay. The question the villagers must negotiate is: to sell or not to sell? Forsyth’s award-winning 1983 film spoke to Thatcher’s Britain. In his new musical version, co-written with playwright David Greig, it sings just as clearly to today’s (dis) United Kingdom.

Shot on location, the film continually shifts scales between cosmic and domestic: weather-beaten, shore-hugging buildings set against the expanses of sky and sea. Human lives measured against the vastness of nature. On stage, these scale shifts are stunningly reimagined: on to a huge disc overhanging the action are projected clouds, sunsets, starry nights; underneath, a model village straddles raised platforms that double as harbour walls; waves are suggested by sound effects (and a pail of water). The transposition to musical - with its choruses at work and play - intensifies interdependencies between individuals and community, while Mark Knopfler (composer and lyricist), by weaving traditional melodies into plot-forwarding songs, creates aural links between instants and a wider history.

If, for me, some of the adaptation’s character cuts don’t quite work, the ensemble playing, under John Crowley’s direction, is entirely glorious. Special mention to Damian Humbley’s oilman Mac - hard-nosed but amiable, bemused and, finally, beguiled both by the place and by Glaswegian hotel chef, Stella (Katrina Bryan), fierce in defence of nature against profit.

• Local Hero is at the Royal Lyceum theatre, Edinburgh, until 4 May, then touring

Watch a trailer for the Local Hero musical.


Clare Brennan

The GuardianTramp

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