Sitting in the familiarity of the King’s Theatre’s stalls I prepared myself for an evening of joy, fun and all things Edinburgh. Over the next two and a half hours those expectations were met and exceeded to a degree I did not expect. I had only seen the film before this evening, but I couldn’t remember much of the plot, so seeing Sunshine OnLeith was a very welcome and exciting prospect.
Two local Leith lads, Davy and Ally, come home from the army to re-join the lives they left behind before deployment, only to find things aren’t exactly the same as when they left.Liz, Davy’s sister and Ally’s girlfriend, is yearning for more than her current mundane life as a nurse, she introduces her friend to her brother on a blind date while everyone else is getting ready to celebrate Davy and Liz’s parents’ anniversary.Everyone is working hard while dreaming of things they never did, and things they want to do, and of places they never went or places they still want to go.
Keith Jack as Ally does a great job of making quite a flawed character very likeable. Ally wants to plan his future with Liz, but she has other ideas. Jack’s ability to make us sympathise with him even when he isn’t thinking straight due to some heightened emotion is impressive. Jack has a great singing voice, something he used to bring a lot of energy to every song. There were a few technical glitches with mics cutting out, but Jack’s voice could be heard clearly most of the time, soaring above the music into the auditorium.
Connor Going played Davy with ease. He encapsulates a very polite and friendly young man, who cares very much for everyone in his life perfectly. He is immediately likeable. Going had the most trouble with mic problems throughout act 1 which was a hinderance to the obvious hard work he had put into the character, but he did his best to not let it stop or alter his performance one iota. Going’s accent slips occasionally, sounding slightly English at points, but this may just be him trying to make sure his voice was clear and audible, which it was throughout the whole performance.
Blythe Jandoo played a very admirable Liz. Her character is so caring yet so independent, always wanting her own thing, and Jandoo balances these two aspects of her characterbrilliantly. The audience can see Liz’s side of things and understand her intentions, even when her actions seem a little strange. This highlights Jandoo’s ability to portray intricate emotions and desires, making us root for her in the long run.
Rhiane Drummond is great as Yvonne. She plays the part of Liz’s best friend brilliantly but holds her own as a strong character who knows what she wants. Bringing in some trepidations from past relationships, Drummond’s Yvonne is confident in herself and also stern in getting what she wants and is not afraid to let go of anyone that may not meet her standards. Drummond never comes off a cocky or annoying though, also managing to show a soft caring side of her that reminds us she is a nurse, capable of great compassion and warmth.
Alisson Orr is fantastic as Jean. Orr feels completely natural as mother to Davy and Liz and as wife to Rab. We truly believe she has been with Rab for 30 years and is almost constantly at the end of her tether with everyone, yet never lets it dampen her mood or make her nasty. It occasionally feels as if Orr is performing to the audience in her delivery rather than in the moment, but that over-the-top style reminds me of many a Scottish mother who loves to blether about things and welcomes everyone into her home, treating anyone as she would her own family.
Keith MacPherson is delightful as Rab. He is so bright and upbeat that I feel I know many real-life fathers just like him. Rab has so much time for every person he interacts with and loves his family deeply. MacPherson manages to make every second of this believable while also making the audience fall in love with him more with every word. The part almost feels like it was written for him. Like a glove, as they say.
The Ensemble in this production were fantastic. Not only were they the Ensemble, but they also doubled as the band for the show. Almost always on stage somewhere, in what looks like their own clothes, dancing and smiling and bringing great energy while singing and playing bass guitar or violins or acoustic guitars or a double bass. Yes. A double bass. The choice to have them on stage was an excellent one. Making the whole production feel really natural and friendly. The main cast would also occasionally fill in on instruments. One scene for example had Connor Going cover for Richard Colvin while he was downstage performing as a side character. This really demonstrates the talent that runs deep within this entire cast, and it makes for incredibly fun and interesting viewing.
Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti’s direction of this production is fantastic. They give every character a decentamount of time on stage and their own moment in the spotlight. The decision to have almost everyone play instruments is fantastic and highlights Edinburgh’s deep roots in music and performance. As someone who used to live there and is in the city very regularly for work, I can confirm that music is at the beating heart of the Scottish capital; one minute it could be silent, the next you’re walking past a band busking with bagpipes and electric guitars. The pacing is also excellent, with the story laid our clearly and very easy to follow with a nice flow to the overall show. Adrian Rees’ set design is great. The set changes were simple yet efficient and covered well with our ensemble band walking on with their various instruments, serenading us and distracting us from the movement going on behind them. The set used these scaffolding-like polls to hold up a miniature of Edinburgh above the band area which was moveable and was used effectively to make certain scenes have a different feel or atmosphere. When the actors climbed up ladders to stand on the miniature section however, they look a little like giants and this does not have the desired effect. The audience finds itself waiting for them to say “Fee Fi Fo Fum, up here we look kinda dumb”.
Overall, this production has that fun feel-good factor with just enough emotions, and enough deeply moving sentiment to make you ponder your life choices well after the curtain falls, that makes for a great night out at the theatre. Act 1 comes close to falling into that Musical trap of shoe-horning in songs, the first twenty minutes feels almost as though there was minimal dialogue and lots of songs. But by the time 500 Miles starts at the end of Act 2 you’ll find yourself up on your feet, clapping and stomping, shouting “Da Dada Da!” at the top of your lungs, hoping to walk 500 miles more.
Currently playing Capital Theatre’s Edinburgh King’s Theatre and will play Pitlochry’s Festival Theatre from 24th Jun till 1st October 2022.
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