Sunshine On Leith – Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Written by Stephen Greenhorn

Featuring the Songs of The Proclaimers

Directed by Elizabeth Newman & Ben Occhipinti

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Returning home can come with a myriad of complications. As desperate as we are to see family, reconnect with friends, and hold our loved ones – change rears itself at every corner. For Davy and Ally, relieved from duty, their return to Edinburgh, more specifically Leith, comes with a cauldron of emotional challenges, as the city, and their lives, are no longer what they were.

Priorities shifting, the pair struggle to readjust to the city, even with the added benefit of Ally’s return to his partner Liz, Davy’s sister. But it’s not only the boys who have their priorities tilted into unexplored realms, as Liz and colleague Yvonne begin to look at the world around them and wonder if this is really where they want to end up. And it’s here, where Stephen Greenhorn’s book manipulates the Jukebox musical into something more in-depth.

While it may not be the cobbles of Edinburgh quite yet, the ridges of Pitlochry play host to Greenhorn’s Sunshine on Leith, belting the tracks of The Proclaimers into the gateway of the Highlands, beginning its run within the newly renovated Pitlochry Festival Theatre before it shifts to its home setting in the Lothians at the King’s Theatre.

Emotional stakes are at the heart of Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti’s adaptation, concentrating the piece to place the humanity of the characters at the centre of importance – and that’s not to say the musicality suffers, far from this, the house band (doubling as an ensemble) play a tremendous role in the success of the production, testing out the revamped acoustics of the theatre. It all slots together tightly, as the lad’s journey through the realisation of what they, and those around them, want turns to fruition where coming of age admits that it can take longer than one realises.

Our pair of returning squaddies Ally and Davy, Keith Jack and Connor Going are a charismatic duo, able to hold their own on stage, but working well with surrounding ensemble members. Going’s possesses a wider vocal range, Jack’s a more nuanced, earthier tone, which places emphasis and characterisation above striking notes, both fitting the nature of their roles well – Ally a more ‘tradtional’ Scot’s lad, Connor admitting that initial appearances are less valuable than they seem.

But who is striking out, carrying the belter numbers and vocals, is Rhiane Drummond’s emotive and controlled Yvonne, with a clarity to their voice which harmonises with the instrumentals, rather than competing, an issue other cast members struggle with. Possessing charming chemistry with Going, evolving over the show – not ready built, authentic, and crossing over the various obstacles the pair face.

Conversely, Ally and Liz already have an established relationship, a shortcut for the audience, but one which Jack and Blythe Jandoo carry well as the couple who have been together for as long as they can remember, but not rarely actually physically together. Jandoo’s more ambitious Liz, attempting to balance the responsibilities of work, family stresses and the grievances of her boyfriend, captures an aspect of relatable pressure. One channelled into the performance elements of her vocals, leading to a more emotionally balanced, and less overwrought conclusion to Act II with Hate My Love, a number usually bloated with heavy instrumentals and false moxie – praise to David Shrubsole’s musical arrangements for dialling back.

Touchingly, there’s additional emphasis on the generational spans across the production – where parents Rab and Jean receive as much time and care as the younger cast, emphasising the difficulties in recognising if a once solid and trusted relationship is more comfortable than healthy. Keith Macpherson is frankly, every Scottish dad. Loud, sarcastic, and the light of the room, a man who tries his best but often fails, but when they leave, the silence left behind is shattering.

And as Alyson Orr lulls the titular Sunshine on Leith in a resoundingly touching way, punctuating every lyric into the audience, garnering a tangible sense of empathy, there’s a clear shift in the production’s jukebox foundations, painting the character and emotional integrity of Newman and Occhipinti push towards.

Lofted, the weight of the city baring down on the crowds, Adrian Rees’ set design offers a shift in dimension, placing the audience and cast at the bottom of Leith walk, looking up to the city above. Framing the band in a dark, cobbled together bluegrass bar vibe, topped with a series of illustrated constructs atop scaffolding housing the instruments and ensemble, Sunshine on Leith stages itself thrust and open, with nowhere for characters to hide when things get tough.

While the Chief weaves his magic across Scotland, originating from the production’s premiere at the Rep, amongst the towering jute mills of Dundee, Sunshine on Leith ventures from the rolling hills of Pitlochry to the docks of Edinburgh and back again, carrying the (romanticised) tune of the nation to re-open one theatre, and calm another to sleep. A story of rejuvenation, for better or worse, of endurance and shaking the foundations of the familiar, it’s a remarkably fitting show to close out the Lady of Leven Street and to celebrate the re-birth of Pitlochry’s Festival Theatre. With keen eyesight for the contemporary, this show permeates a lasting endurance, raising a smile and chuckle, and the hopes of audiences.

‘A Rejuvenating Experience’

Sunshine on Leith runs at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre until June 2nd, before returning June 24th – October 1st.

Sunshine on Leith will transfer to the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh from June 7th – 18th.

Tickets for the Pitlochry run may be obtained here.

Tickets for the King’s Theatre run in Edinburgh may be obtained here.

Photo Credit – Fraser Band

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