Local Hero review – musical misses the magic of Bill Forsyth’s classic

Minerva theatre, Chichester
In spite of a nifty set and new songs, this story of an oil-man trying to buy a Highlands village never quite comes alive

This adaptation of Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film, about a Texan oil-man who wants to buy up a Scottish village, keeps the features that made that original such a classic. There is an evocation of the glorious Highland sky that leads the company boss to drop his multi-million-pound plans and the score by Mark Knopfler gains a bevy of new songs.

But it does not bring the same magic as that film and feels dated in its environmental message, and rather inert in its drama, although Daniel Evans directs with characteristic imagination. There is also an especially nifty set by Frankie Bradshaw, which turns the stage into a giant metallic ocean wave.

Clever changes in the set design bring movement but the actors themselves seem too static and where the drifting pace worked so well on film, here it feels sleepy. There is more energy in the first half, as company boss Happer (Jay Villiers) orders corporate apparatchik Mac (Gabriel Ebert) to go to the Highlands where he meets Gordon (Paul Higgins), Stella (Lillie Flynn) and the rest of the locals.

Gabriel Ebert as Mac in Local Hero.
Gabriel Ebert as Mac in Local Hero. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

Ebert and Higgins have able singing voices, and Gordon is spritely while Mac has a melancholic air, but neither come fully alive in their parts. Flynn’s voice is a highlight in the more complex part of Stella, but the characters overall feel too lightly coloured in, verging on featureless. It becomes hard to latch on to the emotional heart of the story and the humour in David Greig’s book is too gentle to take its place.

Knopfler’s songs are infectious or wistful, as the story requires it, although there are far more of the lilting strains of Celtic folk than the weirder, more wonderful, guitar sounds for which Knopfler is known.

The central romance in the original film (featuring Peter Capaldi and Jenny Seagrove) has been erased, which is a shame given some excellent chat-up lines by Seagrove’s character about the environment. Its climate message here, about the destruction of the land and its communities, sounds like a too-late warning given our current climate crisis and brings an oddly tinny note to the happy ending.


Arifa Akbar

The GuardianTramp

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