Theatre review: Sunshine on Leith

IT'S been a long 11 years since the first performance, at Dundee Rep, of Stephen Greenhorn's brilliant musical built around the songs of The Proclaimers; over that decade, the show has toured the UK, and become a successful film, released in 2013.

sunshine on Leith Kings Theatre - Edinburgh - May 22.... The Sunshine on Leith company. Photography by Manuel Harlan (9)

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh ****

Yet it’s a tribute both to Greenhorn’s writing, and to the magnificent, searching quality of the songs themselves, that this new revival from West Yorkshire Playhouse – new creative home of its original Dundee director, James Brining – seems even more timely than that first production, gathering up themes of war and peace, love and marriage, loss and change, junk jobs and gentrification, into a brilliant piece of 21st century popular theatre that nudges the mind into thought, almost as effectively as it touches our hearts.

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The story centres on two young Leith men, Ally and Davy, who have just returned from service in the British Army, and are trying to re-adjust to civilian life in a fast-changing city.

Ally resumes his enthusiastic wooing of Davy’s sister Liz, Davy takes up with Liz’s nursing colleague Yvonne; and the show soon sweeps us into a riveting family drama – driven by great songs from I’m On My Way and Letter From America to Sunshine on Leith itself – about a 21st century world where love is love, but the NHS is under stress, communities are being “developed” out of existence, and the best Ally and Davy can hope for is work in a call centre.

All of this is delivered with unforgettable flair by Brining’s 18-strong company and a six-piece band, albeit on a surprisingly hefty touring set modelled on the function room at Leith Dockers’ Club. Paul-James Corrigan and Steven Miller are superb in the two leading roles, Jocasta Almgill and Neshla Caplan equally brilliant as Yvonne and Liz, Hilary McLean and Phil McKee touching and perfectly-pitched as Davy’s mum and dad.

And although Sunshine On Leith is an Edinburgh story, received with rapture at the King’s, it is profoundly satisfying to know that this new production has also already scored a huge success on stage in Leeds, before an extensive tour.

“What do you do when democracy fails you?” sings Liz, in one of the greatest numbers from the Proclaimers’ songbook; and it’s clearly a question that now has a resonance far beyond Scotland, in a world where politics so often seems to deliver the wrong answers to young people trying to build a future, here and now.


King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, final performances today; then on tour to Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, and Inverness, until 30 June