Theatre reviews: Sunshine on Leith | Alright Sunshine

Two new productions in Pitlochry and Glasgow put Scotland’s capital centre stage, in terms both celebratory and challenging, writes Joyce McMillan
Connor Going as Davy and Keith Jack as Ally in Sunshine on Leith PIC: Fraser BandConnor Going as Davy and Keith Jack as Ally in Sunshine on Leith PIC: Fraser Band
Connor Going as Davy and Keith Jack as Ally in Sunshine on Leith PIC: Fraser Band

Sunshine On Leith, Pitlochry Festival Theatre ***

Alright Sunshine, Oran Mor, Glasgow ****

There was a time when Edinburgh was known as Auld Reekie; but these days, what with clean air and climate change, the old town often enjoys more than its fair share of sunshine, and this week, both Pitlochry Festival Theatre and Oran Mor in Glasgow put Scotland’s capital centre stage, in terms both celebratory and challenging.

Famously adapted in 2013 into a successful film, Stephen Greenhorn’s much-loved 2007 musical Sunshine On Leith tells the tale of two young Leith lads, Davy and Ally, who return from army service in Afghanistan to try to restart their lives back in Edinburgh; and in truth, watching Pitlochry’s newly-fledged version of their story – about to arrive at the King’s in Edinburgh for a two-week run – is currently a little like watching a TV cookery show in which most of the high-quality ingredients have been assembled, but have yet to be given a firm final mix. Some of the singing is pretty rough, the set seems unnecessarily structured and cluttered, the musical arrangements leave every song hanging in mid-air in a deeply unsatisfying manner, and the sound balance between the ensemble and the principals is so out of whack that when the soldiers open their mouths to sing the opening number, the powerful The Sky Takes The Soul, they sound like a girls’ choir. Some of these problems could be sorted in seconds; but they fairly make a difference to the pacing and impact of a show.

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On the upside, though – well, it would be a pretty heartless Scot, or Proclaimers fan anywhere, who could remain unmoved by the sheer poetry of the songs, beautifully interwoven by Greenhorn into a straightforward but deeply empathetic family drama. In Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti’s production, Keith Macpherson and Alyson Orr are in fine form as Davy’s parents Rab and Jean, with Orr delivering a beautifully poignant version of Sunshine On Leith; and there are also eloquent performances of classics from Let’s Get Married to the mighty Letter From America, with Keith Jack, Blythe Jandoo, Rhianne Drummond and an excellent Connor Going throwing heart and soul into the stories of the two younger couples. It’s a striking feature of Sunshine On Leith that the songs carry most of the complexity and challenge of the show’s 21st century Scottish story, while the narrative follows relatively familiar lines; but either way, the material is magic, and could easily be stirred intro something unforgettable, by the end of the show’s Edinburgh run.

Isla Cowan’s Alright Sunshine, by contrast, is a straight-to-audience contemporary Edinburgh monologue, with a soundtrack that involves only the ordinary noises of a summer afternoon on the Meadows. It’s a show, though, that carries its own complexity, both in the texture of the writing, and in a magnificent, compelling performance by Hannah Jarrett Scott, who plays a policewoman, Nicky, wrestling with the growing conflict between the legacy of her late father – a tough-guy policeman who always told her not to “be a girl” – and her growing sense of the violence towards women implicit in the attitudes of many of her male colleagues.

Cowan builds up the shape of this conflict so brilliantly, as Nicky completes her regular patrol of the Meadows, that there seems almost no need for the final twist in the plot, that fully explains the force of her rage. Between them, though, Cowan, Jarrett Scott and director Joanna Bowman have created a memorable and hard-hitting piece of feminist theatre for the moment we live in; and it deserves a longer life, not least in the city that inspired it.

Sunshine On Leith, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, 7-18 June, and in repertoire at Pitlochry Festival Theatre until 1 October. Alright Sunshine, Oran Mor, Glasgow, until 5 June