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Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Local Hero opens with big-shot, hard-nosed oil executive Mac pitching up in the little Scottish village of Ferness and offering to buy the land lock, stock and barrel, in order to build an oil refinery for American company Knox Oil. As the villagers, tired of their hard lives, gleefully negotiate for as high a price as possible, Mac slowly falls in love with Ferness himself, forcing him to re-evaluate his choices and priorities.

This adaptation of the 1983 film Local Hero – written by original writer and director Bill Forsyth alongside Lyceum artistic director David Grieg – sticks largely to the film’s story, while recreating it as a musical. Despite the story’s age, it feels bang up-to-date; it is hard to miss the significance of a brash, acquisitive American landing in Scotland and demanding to buy up miles of beach.

It is also unflinching in its confrontation of the environmental issues inherent in the story. 35 years after the film was made, scientists are issuing dire warnings about the effects our love affair with oil is having on the planet. Our children feel compelled to march to try and beg our leaders to change course. The opposition to Knox Oil by some of Ferness’s inhabitants should be a rallying cry for us all.

If the messages in Local Hero are strong, unfortunately the play itself is less compelling. The second half in particular feels rather laboured, with too many songs not doing enough to justify themselves or progress the narrative in any meaningful way. Enjoyable as most of them are, it is hard to see what benefit turning the film into a musical has had. It does not make the most of the possibilities offered by the theatrical medium to do something different, with the whimsy and mysticism of the dialogue not fully realised by the play’s staging.

On the other hand, the choreography is effectively done, and knowledgeable audience members will enjoy the liberal references to, and direct quotes from, the film. The climax of the first half is riotous fun, and includes two of the most successful songs – the heart breaking ‘I Wonder If I Can Go Home Again’ (sung by Wendy Somerville’s Mistress Fraser) and the more upbeat ‘Lone Star State’ (a strong Adam Pearce as Russian sailor Viktor).

Damian Humbley makes for a perfectly competent Mac, while Matthew Pidgeon and Katrina Bryan are a compelling double act as publican/lawyer Gordon and his wife Stella, the former negotiating Mac’s deal even as the latter undermines it. Gordon’s raunchy serenading of Stella during the song ‘Filthy Dirty Rich’ is one of the comic high points of the first half. However, the most affecting performance is that of Julian Forsyth as Ben, who demonstrates a quiet but powerful resistance to selling up and selling out that should be a lesson to us all.

Local Hero is an enjoyable enough musical – funny in parts, moving when it wants to be and ticking most of the boxes that fans of the film will want to see ticked. It is also a very relevant play – demanding we do better to stand up for our environment. Unfortunately, it lacks the spark that would truly make it sing.

  • Musical
  • Book by Bill Forsyth and David Greig
  • Music by Mark Knopfler
  • Cast Includes: Katrina Bryan, Julian Forsyth, Damian Humbley, Adam Pearce, Matthew Pidgeon Simon Rouse, Wendy Somerville
  • Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
  • Until 4th May 2019
  • Time: 19:30

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Ben has many years' experience working in the heritage sector, and is currently curator at the world-leading Dovecot Studios. He is a keen watcher and reader of all things theatrical, particularly at Edinburgh’s intimate Lyceum, and has even been known to occasionally tread the boards himself.

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