Scotland reviews 27 items
Local Hero at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
There has been a lot of hype surrounding the new musical based on Bill Forsyth’s original 1983 film.

Created around the quirky story about an American who is sent to Scotland to buy a fishing village so his Texan oil company can build a refinery, the film has become a classic, and very much a hard act to follow.

But when the new production premiered on Saturday night it surpassed all expectations, and an uproarious standing ovation endorsed the audience’s approval.

It is, says the Lyceum’s artistic director David Greig, and co-author of Local Hero with Bill Forsyth, the biggest thing the Lyceum has ever done. And, believe me, this show is huge. Together with Forsyth and Greig’s captivating script, mixing warmth, banter and a celebration of Scotland and its communities, and Mark Knopfler’s matchless music and lyrics, director John Crowley and a superb cast of committed actors have produced a masterpiece which deserves to run and run.

It’s a production which is well researched. The entire cast of 15 were transported to Pennan, in Aberdeenshire - used in the film as the fictional village of Ferness – to get a feel for the location, and Scott Pask’s set not only features the village in miniature, lit up behind a harbour wall, but some glorious skies - including the Northern Lights - peculiar to Scotland.

The cast also embraces the feel of the small community and the colourful characters which are formed from living in such a place: I love Julian Forsyth’s Ben Knox, a stubborn but engaging beachcomber with a secret; as Gordon, hotel owner, accountant, taxi-driver et al, Matthew Pidgeon depicts the archetypal (to Sassenachs!) mean Scotsman, though he is given to hilariously letting go, while warm-hearted Glaswegian Stella, Gordon’s partner, is a solitary figure, an incomer whose views are opposed by the villagers, and is compassionately played by Katrina Bryan. Adam Pearce also steals the show in one scene as Russian Casanova Viktor, while Emmanuel Kojo adds to the international feel as lively African minister Rev Murdo.

The US scenes are in sharp contrast to rural Ferness. Houston is depicted by stock market graphics, world maps and sharp-suited men and women. Simon Rouse commands respect as the owner of the oil company, while Damian Humbley, while reminding me of Colin Firth, is completely convincing as Mac, the American interloper, his soft side shining through even from the start – sensitively played.

Throughout, this production exudes quality. There may be awesome special effects, plus that iconic red telephone box ( which really does seem to work), but the attention to detail is exemplary; even the way the whole cast click their fingers in a particular way, and I love Mac’s arrival in Scotland… to people walking round with umbrellas! Though the musical makes us aware of the environment, there is always a quirky, funny little gem round the corner.

The music, of course, stands out as something extra special. Glasgow-born Knopfler captures the spirit of the village with songs which are humorous, catchy, uplifting and traditional, and set to become stand-alone hits. It isn’t intrusive but at times I found myself really appreciating a drumbeat or a guitar accompaniment. I’m not surprised there is a whole raft of musical producers and directors (Dave Milligan, Phil Bateman, Guy Fletcher and Benjamin Holder) involved.

Weeks ago, Local Hero’s run was already being extended by two weeks and is said to be sold out, but there is the odd seat if you’re lucky – and you are lucky if you get to see this production!

Local Hero is at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh until May 4.
Box Office: 0131 248 4848
lyceum.org.uk
Photo: Stephen Cummiskey