One of the leading characters in The Sunshine Ghost – now on tour across Scotland – is a super-glamorous celebrity astrologer called Astrobeth, a soothsaying star of 1950s American radio. So let me offer my own prediction, for free: some time before next year’s Edinburgh Fringe, someone will decide to revive this genial but terrible small-scale musical, will market it ruthlessly to the kind of American tourists who visit Scotland only to gaze at a tartan-wrapped ghosts-and-castles myth of their own imagining, and will make loads of money – which they might then spend on a piece of Scottish theatre worth making.
The Sunshine Ghost **
Howden Park Centre, Livingston
There are, of course, positive things to be said about The Sunshine Ghost, as there are about any show in which a gifted company does its best to make things work.
The show tells the tale – achingly familiar, but on we plough – of a rich American who comes to Scotland determined to buy a bit of heritage. In this case it’s not a golf course or a legendary bottle of whisky but the ruined
Castle McKinnon, which the millionaire, Duval, wants to transport to
Florida as a wedding venue for himself and Astrobeth, his new love.
What Duval doesn’t know, though, is that the castle comes complete with a ghost, the romantic plaid-swathed 18th- century chieftain Ranald McKinnon, who – in Outlander style – falls in love with Duval’s 20th-century daughter Jackie; cue love-songs, Jacobite anthems and much more entertaining satirical numbers about how much Jackie and Astrobeth hate each other, or the horror of sentimental songs about Christmas.
Some of the songs are not bad, in other words, and could conceivably be transported into a musical with a script less cringe-making. And director Ken Alexander and a fine cast – Barrie Hunter, Helen Logan, John Kielty and Neshla Caplan, with Andy Cannon and Richard Ferguson themselves – does a brave, professional job in belting it out concert-party style, with minimal resources.
In the end, though, the story – and most of the script – is a load of self-patronising tosh, not funny, not satirical, not actually about anything, except a few sad shortbread-tin cliches. Scottish theatre was supposed to have moved on from this kind of self-consciously whimsical, disempowering nonsense at least two generations ago; and to judge by the tiny audience in Livingston on Saturday night, its reappearance is the last thing most Scottish theatre-goers want to see in 2017.
*On tour until 28 October, with dates in Dunkeld, Greenock and Johnstone.