Sunshine on Leith is a refreshing piece of musical theatre that strips all stereotypes of jukebox musicals. Music by The Proclaimers is intertwined into a beautiful Scottish story that showcases the rollercoaster of life.
When ex-soldiers Ally and Davy back to their hometown in Edinburgh, it is a funny and moving story of their lives as they settle back into normal life. The piece was originally developed as a stage musical at the Dundee Rep before being transformed into the 2013 feature film adaptation.
What struck me about this production is the real sense of community it creates. With the musicians on stage part of the action, it feels like a musical rich with heart. The narrative crosses love, heartbreak, pain and confusion as the cast members reach different crossroads in their life. Director James Brining has successfully captured this through the clarity of his storytelling, as the well-crafted characters lives weave into one another.
One thing that really stands out for me is that the actors portraying these people on stage both looked and felt like normal people. It is fantastic to finally be seeing this in theatre as it allows the audience to really relate to these people’s lives and see parts of themselves represented on stage.
Paul-James Corrigan plays Ally, a young lad returning home to a life he thinks he has planned. With a stable relationship and plans for the future, he struggles to come to terms with the fact that other people might just want more than the small town life. Alongside him, Steven Miller plays Davy, who hasn’t planned the direction he is going to take. Both Miller and Corrigan have a superb on stage connection and the depth of their friendship is utterly convincing. With witty dialogue formed with back and forth banter, their natural performance is exceptional.
Playing the northern nurse that has escaped from her hometown up to Edinburgh, Jocasta Almgill shines in the role of Yvonne. Almgill gives a beautifully genuine performance that depicts the qualities of a real young girl finding her way. Slipping into the character with ease, she provides a commanding performance that is enhanced by her remarkable vocals – a particular highlight being her twist on The Proclaimers classic 500 Miles. Almgill’s stage presence alongside Yvonne’s best friend Liz (Neshla Caplan) is incredibly engaging. Caplan brilliantly encapsulates the desperation for bigger and brighter things as her character Liz is always searching what might be beyond the Scottish town.
It isn’t just the young blossoming relationships we witness in the show as we focus in on the marriage of Jean and Rab, played by Hilary Maclean and Phil McKee. Happily married and settled into their monotonous life, when life throws a curveball they stumble upon challenges in their marriage. Maclean and McKee have striking chemistry even after 30 years, despite dealing with stress, parenthood and heartache. With sharp characterisation and expressive vocals, they are a sublime pair.
The intricacy of Colin Richmond’s design creates the mundane town with bus stops, the family kitchen and the local social club. Knowing little about The Proclaimers’ songs beforehand, I found the music poignant, moving and resonant which fit excellently into the charming story. The new arrangement of the music combined with the ensemble and musicians on stage gave each song a multitude of layers to form a hearty soundtrack.
The West Yorkshire Playhouse’s production of Sunshine on Leith is joyous, heartfelt and relatable as it portrays the complexity of normal life. From love and loss to heartbreak and ambition, it’s a truly life-affirming piece of musical theatre.
On at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry until the 6th of June, tickets and information can be found online here.
Photography by Manuel Harlan