Book: Bill Forsyth and David Greig
Music & Lyrics: Mark Knopfler
Director: John Crowley
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
Nominated for several BAFTA’s, receiving critical praise and adoration, the 1983 film Local Hero is a slice of timeless filmmaking. Bill Forsyth’s much-loved film still retains its charm decades later. So, when it was revealed that a stage adaptation was on the cards, and a musical adaptation no less, many a theatre-going Scot knew this may well be their highlight of the Lyceum’s 2019 repertoire.
Relevant now as ever, Local Hero is a low-key story in which American oil representative Mac (Damian Humbley) stumbles into the glare of one thing he cannot overcome – Scottish canniness. Situated on an oil pipeline, it is up to Mac to win over the residents of the rural town whilst not losing himself in the wild splendour of the Highlands.
The green pastures of England, those misty mountains of the Welsh coast – Romanticism can be a wayward concept. Perhaps nowhere more so than Scotland. At its heart, it reconnects us to nationality, community, albeit through the most tinted of nostalgia goggles. The charm throughout Local Hero is echoed in its mysticism and characters, but nowhere quite so as Luke hall’s prepossessing projection design.
Forsyth has carefully balanced the romantic pedestalling of Scotland, though it does wobble in the breeze. Some characters stray into caricatures, though they are levelled out by others. None more so than Ben, ‘wizard’ of the beach. Julian Forsyth is the example of when Local Hero excels. Subtle, jovial and whilst a slight stretch of exaggeration has rings of familiarity.
Humour is an integral part of Forsyth and Grieg’s writing, a pivotal tool for the story. Without it, the realism of the production falls apart, it’s place is just on the cusp of absurdist. Paradoxically, this absurdism works to reinforce the realism.
You can find yourself becoming lost in this production. It carries that quaintness in the model village overlooking the characters. Musical numbers aside, there are no quarrels with the quieter moments, quite often opting for silence as opposed to ramble. Bombarding this silence though is Lucy Hind’s choreography that demands that you get your feet tapping if the music hasn’t got it going already.
Quite often with productions such as Local Hero, we ask ourselves; ‘why a musical?’. It’s a bold move, especially given the original films tight pacing. It works, most of the time. Where Mark Knopfler’s numbers work are the seamless transitions. As a musical, it heightens the whimsical factor, though filler numbers do render some moments stilting. By the time we hit Matthew Pidgeon and Katrina Bryan’s show-stealer Filthy, Dirty, Rich we’re accustomed to the musicality. Maintaining just enough of Knopfler’s film soundtrack feel, though accentuated for the stage vocally, the entire cast is on point, Wendy Somerville’s haunting solo the most accomplished.
Correlations and comparisons with the original source are unfair but unavoidable, especially given the same creators involvement. Taking this musical as a completely separate entity though, it’s rather marvellous. It isn’t without its faults, on levels of personal taste the romanticism can feel overreaching and quite often song choices are unnecessary. It has an environmental message, is poignant ecologically and the growing standpoint of Scottish Independence is present but is at times eclipsed.
This production means a tremendous deal to a great many. It’s crafted with respect for fans of Forsyth’s original, but for new viewers too. It’s a production for the people. As one of Scotland’s most beloved stories of previous decades, everything has been done to conjure up the resilience, humour and valour Scotland utilises in it’s past, present and future.
Runs until 4 May 2019 | Image: Stephen Cummiskey