Writer: Stephen Greenhorn
Songs by: The Proclaimers
Director: James Brining
Reviewer: Gareth Davies
The original production of this Scottish jukebox musical was one of the highlights of James Brining’s tenure as artistic director at Dundee Rep. Created back in 2007 in collaboration with Stephen Greenhorn, who also gave us River City, the plan was to utilise the songs of the Proclaimers to emulate productions such as Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You. This new production from Brining – now at West Yorkshire Playhouse – brings the hit bang up to date with all the foot-tapping, singalong classics that made it a barnstorming success on its debut, along with enough references to contemporary Scotland to ward off any suggestion of being past its sell by date.
Ally and Davy (Paul-James Corrigan and Steven Miller) demob from the army and return to their home town, Edinburgh – actually, Leith – to turn their hand to family and relationships. Liz (Neshla Caplan), Ally’s girlfriend, has been waiting for him to return, and takes the opportunity to set up brother Davy with her colleague Yvonne (Jocasta Almgill), an English nurse.
Just as it sounds wearily like a traditional musical set-up, Greenhorn finds ways to pair the story to the songs in a few quirky ways. Let’s Get Married, an easy song to tie to a couple getting engaged, instead becomes a pub-set paean to blokey advice on how best to propose. I’m On My Way charts the walk from Edinburgh to Leith (from misery to happiness, ah-ha). Letter from America is more literally applied, as is the grand finale of I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), the staple of drunken pub singalongs.
The script is peppered with wit, even if the emotional touchpoints land rather heavily, and the second half in particular is light on songs and weighty on dramatic exposition to move things towards a slightly unconventional narrative conclusion. At times it seems as though the choice of depicting three pairs of relationships leaves too little time for much depth of exploration, but for the first half, at least, there’s enough drama and music to keep you from noticing.
Voices are in fine fettle across the cast, with the two pairs of leads in especially good form, along with Phil McKee and Hilary Maclean, as Davy’s parents negotiating a rather melodramatic midlife crisis, exchanging the standout numbers of Oh Jean and Sunshine on Leith. The onstage musicians and actor-musicians create a vibrant and authentically raucous atmosphere, and David Shrubsole’s inventive musical arrangements make even the most familiar of the featured tunes sound new and interesting.
A checklist of Edinburgh and Leith landmarks and features keep the local crowd engaged, with only the final submissive slump into a too-easy call-and-response relationship between stage and auditorium sitting uneasily alongside the less conventional presentation of the material prior to that point.
Colin Richmond’s set keeps things moving with a fluidity that is largely well managed, while Emily-Jane Boyle’s choreography only hits some glaring missteps with the more expressive dance sequences in the latter section, which contrast awkwardly with the more intuitive and rhythmic movements of the ensemble pieces.
The politics may be a little brazen (and inconsistent – a character leaving the NHS citing growing privatisation is enticed by the prospect of a job in Miami, aka private healthcare central) but it’s hard to resist the feel-good strains of a story that shuns traditionally glamorous settings and characters for something more recognisable to those who live in the real world.
Runs until 26 May 2018 | Image: Contributed