Musical theatre: Local Hero (rating 5/5)
The 1983 movie Local Hero was a landmark moment for Scottish cinema. Coming two years after writer Bill Forsyth’s breakthrough hit Gregory’s Girl, it redefined the stereotype portrayals of Scotland that had been depicted in movies of the 50s and 60s. Aided and abetted by some fantastic scenery and an evocative soundtrack from Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler, its impact and appeal have only grown in the past 36 years as it has moved from cult film to bona-fide classic.
All of which makes it ripe for a stage revival, but also carries the risk of it failing to live up to the standards set by the original. Any fears about the wisdom of the project are however unjustified. Not only does this new musical adaptation respect the legacy of the movie, it enhances it and there’s every chance that it could have the same effect for Scottish theatre, that the movie had for Scottish cinema, bringing it to mainstream audiences across the world.
The story is broadly the same as it was in the movie. Mac Macintyre (played by Damian Humbley), the America-based representative of a Texan oil magnate is despatched to the fictional Scottish coast town of Ferness to buy the land and secure the construction rights for a large oil refinery. It’s a deal that offers the locals money that they never could have dreamed of, but that comes at a price. The sea and sky that have been there for eternity will be lost to them.
The locals are not so sentimental that they don’t recognise what they could do with the money, and any romantic notions about the landscape are for people who haven’t lived all their lives there. Gordon Urqhuart (Matthew Pidgeon), the local publican, hotel owner, accountant and solicitor, sets out to strike a deal with Max that will change the locals’ lives. The main opposition to selling the town comes from his partner Stella (Katrina Bryan), an outsider born in Glasgow.
All of the main characters are superbly portrayed, with Pidgeon capturing perfectly the essence of the biggest man in a small town, Humbley convincing as the businessman finally noticing that the world is more than just a collection of deals to strike, and Bryan as the dreamer who found peace in a tranquillity that others had no choice but to tolerate.
The lack of misty-eyed depiction of the locals, and the replacement of yearning for bygone times with a practical hard-headed realism is one of the things that made the movie stand out against other cinematic versions of Scotland, and this is carried forward into the musical.
Unlike many musicals, where the songs appear to be set pieces, confirming what we’ve seen and placing the story on hold until they’re over, Knopfler’s new score, written for the musical, drives the plot forward and puts the characters’ thoughts and emotions into words, sounds and movement. Filthy Dirty Rich is performed with a joyous sense of abandonment as Gordon leads the village in unmitigated celebration of their new found wealth, and it’s perfectly contrasted with the beautifully reflective Rocks and Water where Stella questions what is really important in life and concludes there are some things that money can’t take the place of.
Director John Crowley clearly knows that the atmosphere of the movie was created by far more than scenery alone, and this is reflected in the set design by Scott Pask, which is simple, yet effective, enabling the story to switch effortlessly between different locations which are all brought to life by the characters, the script and the music.
Where something more is needed, such as the Northern Lights and an American trading floor, it’s done through the lighting and projection designs of Puale Constable and Paul Arditti.
From start to finish this is an excellent, well-considered production, with superb acting, singing, movement and direction that all come together to bring the spirit of the fictional Scottish town to the stage. It’s already booked in for an extended run at The Lyceum and transfers to the Old Vic in London next year. It should become every bit as important and timeless as the film was.
Lyceum, Edinburgh, until 4 May