Bill Forsyth’s classic 1983 comedy-drama, Local Hero, is often regarded as a seminal work in Scottish cinema. It served as a stepping-stone in the move away from the Kailyard-esque portrayal of Scotland which had dominated the industry up until that point; a move that would be completed by the release of Trainspotting in 1996. It seems fitting then that the new stage-musical adaptation of Local Hero also finds itself oddly placed both in and outside of the Kailyard. This proves to not necessarily be a bad thing, for every part of the show is masterfully executed and beautifully crafted to form an experience that is at once side-splittingly hilarious and utterly heartbreaking.
Of course, this seems only natural considering Forsyth penned the book which David Greig adapted for the production, resulting in a script that is incredibly sharp but simultaneously able to shift this humour to sadness and back on a whim. Local Hero keeps many of the hallmarks of the original film: it is after all the same story of a Houston Oil company representative becoming won over by the residents of the small Scottish village he has been sent to buy. At the same time, it also makes several updates that ultimately better the original. Gone is Danny (Peter Capaldi’s character in the film) who almost served as a buffer between the film’s central character, Mac, and the community of Ferness, as such that character’s experience in the town feels all the more personal.
This is, of course, aided by Damian Humbley’s portrayal of Mac, along with the rest of the cast who excellently bring the colourful characters of Ferness to life. The audience really come to care and sympathise with every single member of the community despite their often opposing ideals. Be it Stella’s (Katrina Bryan) desire to maintain the unspoilt, albeit idealised, beauty of Ferness that only she – as an ‘blow-in’ – can see; Mistress Fraser’s (Wendy Somerville) wish to elope with the ‘Soviet Sinatra’ Viktor (a standout wonderfully characterised by Adam Pearce); or Iain (John McLarnon) and his dream to buy a new guitar and go on tour with his band. All of them are immediately memorable and feel like concrete characters with genuine economical and environmental concerns -the latter of which feels all the more relevant in the age of Trump and his golf courses.
These performances are greatly aided by John Crowley’s direction which, along with Lucy Hind’s superb choreography, makes for a spell-binding experience to watch as the audience struggles to take their eyes off the characters’ movements during the musical numbers. At the same time however, it is sometimes a struggle to return one’s gaze to the action on stage as it is so easily distracted by the canopy suspended above, upon which the sky is projected. The broad, colourful brush strokes that make up the evening sunset and the subtle twinkling of the stars at night are thoroughly mesmerising and – combined with the simple set on-stage – makes for a masterclass in minimalist set-design.
All of this, though, would be nothing were it not for the music composed by Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler, who famously composed the soundtrack to the original film. The tone of the guitar is iconically Knopfler, and as such is immediately recognisable the moment it picks up in the opening number, “A Barrel of Crude”, helping to encapsulate the 80s setting. Although it resonates throughout many of the songs, it melds beautifully with the traditional Scottish sound, giving an almost Ceilidh-like feel to many of the songs. Taking from a variety of genres, the fantastically composed songs will leave audience members humming the tunes long after the show has finished; especially “Big Mac” and “Cheerio Away You Go”.
Local Hero is a myriad of successes, particularly from a musical and technical standpoint, however it is not without some flaws. While the script may be witty and accompanied by strong performances all around, it does suffer from a degree of kitsch. Namely in the lack-lustre, Deus ex machina way in which the inherent conflict is resolved. While the sombre ending is heart-wrenching, one cannot help but feel unsatisfied in the way it came about. That said, it does not detract from the show too much and as one exits the Lyceum with the classic theme “Going Home” playing overhead, you will find yourself smiling as you reflect on the charming and wonderful piece of theatre that has just been experienced.