Sunshine on Leith

October 19, 2016 | By | 5 Replies More

★★★☆☆    Sunny intervals

Church Hill Theatre: Tue 18 – Sat 22 Oct 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

Tuneful and committed, Allegro’s production of Sunshine on Leith at the Church Hill is almost torpedoed by some peculiar staging choices.

The songs of the Proclaimers feature heavily in the musical, first staged at Dundee Rep and whose subsequent popularity has extended to a film version. It tells the story of two soldiers returning to Edinburgh from Afghanistan – Davy Henshaw and his friend Ally, who is going out with Davy’s sister Liz.

Michelle Baskeyfield, Donald Randall. Photo: Nicky Graham (Modern Take Photography)

Michelle Baskeyfield, Donald Randall. Photo: Nicky Graham (Modern Take Photography)

The book, by Stephen (River City) Greenhorn, is not only more intelligent and politically informed than the average jukebox musical, it is also better at finding reasons to include the various songs.

This does mean that the story takes a lot of turnings in order to accommodate each number – somebody wants to Get Married; someone else might go to America from where they could doubtless send a Letter. This production, unfortunately, follows the meanderings more than most.

A complicated split-level set is used, which lends itself ideally to different acting areas representing different locations. Yet, in between every one of the nearly forty scenes there is moving of furniture or staircases.

This adds hugely to the running time, removes any flow from the story, and is thoroughly unnecessary. Sometimes the scene-shifting takes as long as the scene that follows. Rather than adding to the realism, it diminishes it.

time-consuming

Greenhorn’s script carefully signposts where scenes take place without the need of an actual signpost on stage as well; it is immediately clear when we are in a bedroom without the time-consuming wheeling out of a bed and drawers.

Michelle Baskeyfield and chorus. Photo Nicky Graham (Modern Take Photography)

Michelle Baskeyfield and chorus. Photo Nicky Graham (Modern Take Photography)

Director Harry Dozier seems unwilling to let the action speak for itself. When the principals are on one part of the set, too often minor characters are elsewhere, engaging in elaborate pantomime and rhubarbing. Once again, this has an oddly distracting, even alienating effect, rather than the realism intended.

This is a shame, as the performances themselves are more than adequate. Donald Randall (Davy) and Fraser Jamieson (Ally) both have likeable presences and good voices, meaning that their characters are sympathetic and plausible; Jamieson in particular has a pleasingly gallus swagger.

Michelle Baskeyfield, as Yvonne, the nurse who begins a relationship with Danny, is believably brittle, while Fiona Dawson (Liz) has a huge voice, shown to particularly good effect when she leads What Do You Do?. This is one of the times when the staging is effective rather than fussy, and the political and personal impact of the song is duly enhanced.

It is when the characters are allowed to drive the story that the production is at its strongest. Davy and Liz’s parents are very much at the heart of the story, and their relationship is genuinely affecting here. Phill Dobson (Rab) may not have the strongest voice but there is a real emotional clarity to his performance, while Lesley Ward (Jean) is very good indeed, combining stoicism and heartbreak.

Balance

Rachel Aedy, as Rab’s ex-girlfriend Margaret, and Matt McDonagh as the young Rab, have an affecting duet; this is one of the moments when the set does come into its own. However, there is a problem here that surfaces elsewhere, with the balance between the individual voices and the musical backing. MD James McCutcheon and the band are spirited and lively, but the sound tends towards the raucous, and too often the words are drowned out.

Donald Randall (Davy), Fraser Jamieson (Ally) and cast. Photo: Nicky Graham (Modern Take Photography)

Donald Randall (Davy), Fraser Jamieson (Ally) and cast. Photo: Nicky Graham (Modern Take Photography)

The ensemble numbers are energetically staged, Donna Ewing’s choreography making clever use of the large chorus. Should Have Been Loved, with its parade of dancing cleaners, is particularly effective.

The less well known songs, as so often, come off best – Life With You and Hate My Love, with the principals combining cleverly, come across much better than I’m On My Way or 500 Miles, which have everything thrown at them but never quite convince.

This is the main problem with the whole production. The acting and singing are very good indeed, but the extraneous business – not to mention the inflated running time – threatens to overshadow them. Thankfully, they are strong enough to win through.

Running time 3 hours (including one interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Tuesday 18 – Saturday 22 October 2016
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinee Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/allegro

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  1. Audrey says:

    For an amateur production it was brilliant. Yes, there were lots of scenes changes, but that just added to the dynamics and character of the whole show. The cast members executed their roles superbly. Well worth a visit.

    • Ruth says:

      I agree with Audrey, I thought the staging was great and the whole production was excellent, an awful lot better than the “adequate” mentioned in the review by Mr Simpson above. The audience were on their feet at the end, the Church Hill was “rocking” .. a brilliant first night!

  2. A happy punter says:

    If you don’t like musicals Hugh, don’t go and review them. You’re turning into the Edinburgh Evening News!

    These are amateurs who do it for the love of their hobby and don’t often have the budget or timescales of a professional production. Please learn to see through this if you attend on the opened night and try to see what the production could be.

    I for one was there on the opening night and loved it, so much so that I’ve been back twice and the production has matured as the week has gone on. Well done Allegro!

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