It was announced that Local Hero could be a possibility while I was still on the Royal Lyceum board three years ago and it seemed like a wild dream, almost a fantasy really; that one of Scotland’s most iconic movies could be turned into a stage play, and a musical at that.
Even though it rates only a solid, but unspectacular 7.4 on IMDB, it has been taken to Scotland’s heart. I only watched it myself, a month ago, in anticipation of this production finally, miraculously landing. But I wasn’t overly taken with the movie I have to say. It has dated and I found too many of the performances pretty easy to criticise and that let it down. So I approached last night nervously.
There was no need to worry. This is a smash hit in the making. The buzz around The Lyceum was palpable and the after show party felt like the West End had dropped into Edinburgh.
The Director is John Crowley for God’s sake – he of the Oscar-nominated movie Brooklyn: the man who has just directed the most anticipated movie (for me anyway) of 2019; The Goldfinch.
The set designer is Scott Pask – Book of Mormon – heard of that?
And, of course, the music was developed and expanded by none other than Mark Knopfler himself.
The cast is not a Take The High Road reunion, indeed only two of the 15 have ever appeared on The Lyceum stage, and have Girl From The North Country, Kinky Boots, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Les Mis, This House, Wolf Hall , School of Rock and Sweeney Todd, amongst many others, littering their CVs.
This is the real deal. This is monumental ambition for a 600 seat theatre in Scotland. (Albeit the Old Vic are co-producers).
So, onto a couple of old upturned fish boxes sidle Matthew Pigeon, as Gordon the hotel-owner and chief negotiator, and Ownie (Scott Ainslie) to conclude Ownie’s accountancy requirements with change from a fiver. If only Gordon had change.
It’s a quiet start that does not prepare you for the technical wizardry that underpins the first showstopper of the night, “A Barrel of Crude”. And there’s a laugh right from the off. Light humour that litters an excellent script.
Through the opening half hour the lilting lament that formed the musical motif of the movie slips and slides into earshot before finally emerging fully formed. It’s beautiful.
The story is pretty much as per the movie, but the morals feels somehow even more upfront as we chart the greed of the locals over the environmental consequences of their signing away their home village of Ferness (You can’t eat scenery though).
The big bad American oilman (played impeccably by Damian Humbley) is a great foil to Katrina Bryan’s Stella and Matthew Pigeon’s Gordon in a love triangle that doesn’t really quite come off (that would be my only real criticism of the show).
I particularly liked the movement in this (directed by Lucy Hind). It’s a play about contrasting scales (big skies, small villages, small-mindedness and big ambitions) and what she skilfully does is play with that scale through subtle but lovely choreography to bridge scenes and dramatise that juxtaposition of scales. It’s really nice to see great movement that’s NOT trying to be John Tiffany: again.
The dance movement is slick and light of touch. With a big mixed-age, mixed-size cast that’s no mean feat.
The band is top notch and excellently MD’d by Phil Bateman on keys.
Although the score is inspired mainly by the Celtic canon it succeeds much more than Come From Away (that I saw on Monday) which too draws from that canon – but does it to death. Here we have ballads, tangos, a bit of rock and roll and, yes, that plaintive motif.
The light and shade in this production’s musical content, for me, frankly blows the multi Olivier-nominated Come From Away out of the water. Indeed, on every level this is a much more enjoyable evening of theatre – so roll on the Oliviers 2020.
The comparisons can’t fail be made – both are Celtic musicals set in tiny communities, in wildernesses where big America comes to visit.
The Local Hero ensemble is universally excellent, the direction superb but the showstopper of it all is the scenic design. You’ll need to see it to appreciate it. I ain’t gonna do it any justice here. All I’ll say is this. You haven’t seen the aurora borealis until you’ve seen Local Hero at The Lyceum.
Bravo Lyceum. Bravo.
The show richly deserves both its standing ovation and the Sold Out boards you’ll find in Grindlay Street for the next six weeks.
(I did take a peek at the website box office and you CAN get tickets for late in the run. I’d do it if I were you.)