Sunshine on Leith review: Proclaimers musical is maudlin and misty-eyed but very hard to resist

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Blythe Jandoo and Keith Jack in ‘Sunshine on Leith’ (Fraser Band)
Blythe Jandoo and Keith Jack in ‘Sunshine on Leith’ (Fraser Band)

It’s hard to go wrong with Sunshine on Leith, the jukebox musical written by Stephen Greenhorn and inspired by the greatest hits of folk-rock duo The Proclaimers. The original production started life in Dundee in 2007, toured several times, then became a film starring Jane Horrocks and George MacKay in 2013. Now it returns in a new production from Pitlochry Festival Theatre and Edinburgh’s Capital Theatres, two institutions currently shaking up the industry in Scotland. It may be maudlin and misty-eyed, but – more importantly – Sunshine on Leith remains heartfelt and nicely homespun. It’s ultimately hard to resist.

The 11 albums by The Proclaimers – aka twin brothers Craig and Charlie Reid – are perfect for a work like this. Their songs are relatable and often raucous tributes to universal experiences – first loves, engagements, marriages, break-ups. Throw in some rowdy choruses stuffed with catchy call-and-response hooks, and the show basically writes itself.

Not that Stephen Greenhorn – creator of soap opera River City, among many other things – did a cut-and-paste job when slotting the songs into a storyline back in 2007. His plot is significantly more sophisticated than that of most jukebox musicals, incorporating themes of Scottish identity, industrial decline, the problems of post-military life, and, yes, romance. It revolves around two squaddies, Ally and Davy, who are adjusting to life after time in the army. Both want to settle down and start families, but their respective love interests aren’t sure if they want the same thing. Davy’s parents’ 30-year marriage, meanwhile, is shaken after the sudden appearance of an unexpected daughter.

As a vehicle for Proclaimers tunes, Sunshine on Leith really works. “I’m On My Way” slots neatly into the soldiers’ returning romp down Leith Walk at the show’s start. “Hate My Love” is perfect for when things start to go wrong for our characters just before the show’s interval. “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” is the perfect foot-stomping, hand-clapping closer. Only a couple of songs – notably “Over and Done With” and “Throw the ‘R’ Away” – feel shoehorned into the story. They all at least sound great courtesy of David Shrubsole’s heavily harmonised arrangements, played live by an ensemble of actor-musicians.

Directors Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti keep things simple with their staging. An Edinburgh skyline and rolling furniture help scenes shift between Leith Harbour, Blackford Hill and beyond. Keith Macpherson and Alyson Orr provide stand-out performances as Rab and Jean, the long-married couple whose relationship is on the rocks. Orr’s soft and sweet rendition of the titular tearjerker – habitually belted out by emotional Hibs football fans – proves to be the evening’s best moment. Its biggest disappointment, though, is that some of the younger cast members aren’t quite big or bold enough to match them, and their storylines suffer as a result.

Sunshine on Leith will return to Pitlochry after its two-week run in Edinburgh, after which the King’s Theatre will go dark for a lengthy and long-awaited renovation. It’s tough, whatever the show’s flaws, to think of a more fitting show to go out on.

‘Sunshine on Leith’ is at the King’s Theatre Edinburgh until 18 June

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