Sunshine on Leith review – stirring journey from ‘misery to happiness’

Pitlochry Festival theatre
Musical built around the Proclaimers’ music is tear-jerking and joyful and awash with life

We’ve romped most of the way through Life With You, the title track from the Proclaimers’ seventh album, when the lead actors fade out of view and hand the stage to the musicians. Six of them come to the front with their assorted string instruments and belt out the remainder of the song. They are full-voiced and joyful.

It is a lovely moment and not just because it foregrounds Richard Reeday’s musical direction and David Shrubsole’s acoustic-led arrangements. It is also because it acknowledges how much Stephen Greenhorn’s superb 2007 musical, based on the songs of the Proclaimers, is about community. Keenly tuning in to the romantic and political vision of songwriters Craig and Charlie Reid, the playwright fashions a story that brims with ideas about nationhood, democracy and economics just as much as the awkward tensions of boy-girl relationships.

Community-minded … Meg Chaplin (Eilidh) and Keith Macpherson (Rab) in Sunshine on Leith.
Community-minded … Meg Chaplin (Eilidh) and Keith Macpherson (Rab) in Sunshine on Leith. Photograph: Fraser Band

That is why it feels right that the stage should be awash with life, a near constant chorus supporting the stories of returning squaddies Ally and Davy (Keith Jack and Connor Going), their restless girlfriends Yvonne and Liz (Rhiane Drummond and Blythe Jandoo) and Davy’s equally restless parents Jean and Rab (Alyson Orr and Keith Macpherson). Designer Adrian Rees allows the performers free movement beneath his high-level cardboard collage of Edinburgh buildings, keeping the show in perpetual motion.

In 2022, more than ever, we are due a dose of the Proclaimers’ generous civic philosophy. This is a celebratory journey “from misery to happiness”, although Greenhorn plunges us into dark moments along the way, all the more poignant because of our recent experiences of bereavement. Sunshine on Leith is tear-jerking at the best of times; placing it at a life-or-death moment in a hospital ward is devastating. There are audible sobs from the row behind.

It means that by the time we get to the exuberant stomp of I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) in Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti’s production, the cast have earned the emotional release. If the leads are a tad restrained, more televisual than theatrical, their harmonies are heavenly and their hearts are gloriously in the right place.

• At Pitlochry Festival theatre, until 2 June, then 24 June to 1 October; King’s theatre, Edinburgh, 7 to 18 June.


Mark Fisher

The GuardianTramp

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