Having also directed the original production of Sunshine on Leith whilst at Dundee Rep, I suppose West Yorkshire Playhouse artistic director James Brining had a slight head start as he began work on this new staging of the much-loved jukebox musical. It thus seemed a relatively safe choice to maintain the theatre’s excellent reputation for orchestrating high quality in-house productions.
In line with its Edinburgh setting, the show, written by Stephen Greenhorn, entwines the music of Scottish duo The Proclaimers within a plot in which the Henshaw household come face-to-face with a multitude of relatable, domestic hurdles. As in the hit motion picture for which the musical is arguably better known, distinguished tracks such as Over and Done With and I’m Gonna Be are just a couple of those to feature.
From beginning to end, there are a plethora of praiseworthy elements. The show, for starters, moves swiftly from scene to scene, enabling the audience’s focus to be easily retained. Additionally meritorious, Brining’s decision to place wooden tables at the edge of the stage to enable the front row to feel as though they are too a part of the pub and party scenes. I greatly admired how the musicians are often positioned away from their designated area and instead between the actors, offering the performance a sense of unity.
So sorry we can’t be there tonight. Our very best wishes to James, all the cast and everyone at WYP involved in Sunshine On Leith. We are absolutely delighted that the show has been relaunched with such an exciting and talented team and we look forward to seeing the show soon
— The_Proclaimers (@The_Proclaimers) April 26, 2018
It’s a shame, however, that, during some numbers, the cast’s diction is quite substandard to the extent I repeatedly struggled to comprehend certain lyrics. Parts of the design are questionable as well with some elements giving a false impression of what’s to come. The use of strobe lights at the start, for example, whilst a thrilling spectacle, seem considerably out of kilter with the rest of the show’s light-hearted nature.
Of the actors, Phil McKee’s characterisation of the family’s father, Rab, is meticulous. For the majority, McKee maintains the role of the stereotypical alpha male: one which is dogmatic, resolute and self-assured. When Rab finds himself in difficulty, comparatively, McKee brings to light the character’s more compassionate side. Hilary Maclean, who herself was born in the Scottish capital, also delivers a wonderful performance as the outgoing Jean with her execution of the timeless title song one of the show’s highlights.
I, conversely, was somewhat disappointed with Steven Miller’s take on returning serviceman Davy. Despite succeeding in creating a character of great likability, I found Miller’s physicality, sometimes too pervasive, which, in turn, detracted from some of the character’s dialogue.
Even though this is a show which is by no means perfect, its failings are few and far between, and, in many cases, would’ve been impossible for Brining to control. The chances of it making anybody any more inclined to walk 500 miles are slim, but what this production will probably do is raise its audiences to their feet for the rest of its run.
Sunshine on Leith ran at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 19th May before touring.
Luke Prowse Baldwin
Image courtesy of The Guardian