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Sunshine on Leith. Majestic Theatre, Retford. 08 May 2024.

Updated: Jun 6

Sunshine on Leith.

Retford Musical Theatre Company.

Majestic Theatre, Retford.

09 - 11 May 2024.

The latest offering from RMTC is the jukebox musical Sunshine on Leith written by Stephen Greenhorn and co-directed by Jayne Horner and Vanessa Smith. Musical Director is Emma Kerrison and the choreographer is Adele Beaumont.  It features music by Charlie and Craig Reid, better known as The Proclaimers. It is a show about love, family, home and dreams and RMTC deliver on every level. I know I am not Scottish and thus my ear for accents may be tricked a little but the cast delivered flawless accents as far as I could tell that were consistent throughout and you will be forgiven for assuming that they normally speak like that in everyday life. The Edinburgh accent is softer than the hard Glasgwegian, I often think of it as sounding more educated and refined. To my ears the cast did an amazing job negotiating the accent in this production.

The show opens with the throbbing of helicopter blades and roaming spotlights cutting through the dark. A group of British soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan cautiously sing Sky Takes the Soul and the dramatic opening reaches a climax as they engage in a firefight. A blackout and a rapid shift of tone sees two of the soldiers, Davy and Ally return to their homeland of Scotland having reached the end of their service, ready for life in Civvy Street. Stepping out at Waverley Station in Edinburgh, they are full of hope, energy and enthusiasm and the theme of the song I’m On My Way fits the mood perfectly setting up the disappointment that a return to civilian life can bring to many in the armed services.

Davy returns to his family home where his parents Rab and Jean live with is sister Liz. Liz and Davy’s pal Ally are a couple and Liz introduces Davy to her friend Yvonne whose unforgivable flaw is that she is English. The stage is then set and ready to fly as we watch each relationship take on its ups and downs which are somewhat predictable, but nonetheless heart-warming. A secret from Rab’s past comes back to haunt him, Davy’s insecurity derails his blossoming relationship and Ally finds it increasingly difficult to cope with life beyond the army.

The leads are accompanied by a very talented ensemble with some standout performers among them and all combine to make the show into a grand, foot-tapping singalong that often feels like a great night out at your local with your mates. Energetic choreography enhances the spectacle and with one or two exceptions, the hits of the Proclaimers feel as if they were written for the stage.

The two lead males, soldiers Davy and Ally are played by Sam Taylor and Oliver Ward respectively and they exhibit a natural bond and the chemistry of lifelong friends who have always had each other’s backs. Taylor’s droll, inherently decent, Davy lacks confidence until he meets Yvonne who brings him out of his shell, despite having baggage of her own regarding relationships and we see him blossom. He possesses a lovely tenor that can really sell the joy and the heartache behind some of the Proclaimers greatest hits.

Ward as Ally, conveys the discomfort of the returning soldier really effectively. With the perfect girlfriend in Davy’s sister Liz, everything looks positive but he finds it difficult to adjust to working in a call centre. As his relationship hits a rocky patch, Ally’s world begins to crumble. Another accomplished performer, Ward is engaging and brings the right degree of angst to his performance.

Their counterparts, Liz and Yvonne, provide the balance to the boys’ macho, military backgrounds. The girls are nurses working at the local hospital each with their own dreams and goals. As Liz, Hannah Harris is a revelation. She has a shining stage presence and sings like a dream. It is no wonder Ally is completely smitten with this wonderfully kind caregiver.

As Yvonne, whose sin of being English has to be overlooked before Davy can consider a relationship is played by Megan Huntley, who brings warmth, charm and vulnerability to her portrayal. She too is blessed with a terrific singing voice and the audience will love her and root for her relationship with Davy to work.

My favourite pairing however, has to be that of the parents, Rab and Jean, married for thirty years and a picture of domestic stability and bliss. They are played by Ian Stewart and Jane Shelley who both bring rounded, real performances that ooze believability. Just when the couple should be at their happiest, life throws out a problem that threatens their future and leads to Rab’s hospitalisation.

As Rab, Stewart is a loveable shop security guard going about his daily life and his solo songs are a joy to behold. Following his hospitalisation, Stewart’s family man provides a focus that explains precisely why the marriage has worked so well.

Shelley’s Jean is a tower of strength and the maternal glue keeping the family together, working as a cleaner at the Scottish Parliament and also demonstrates grit, determination and believability as she worries for the future of her family and gets to grips with her own mind about the predicament in which the family finds itself. Her stunning performance of Sunshine on Leith at Rab’s bedside is heart breaking.

The final principal role is filled by Charlie Taylor as Eilidh Clarke, and her appearance well and truly throws a cat among the pigeons for the established pairings - but I shall not reveal how or why here because... spoilers! Taylor gives a lovely, sympathetic Eilidh whose intention is only to fulfil her dying mother’s wish.

Other featured performers who really bring their all include Jamie Savage who confidently leads the ensemble through many numbers as the all-seeing and all-knowing barman, Sarah Mitchell as the celebrity chef, and the wedding singer performed by Lucy Cosford.

Everyone makes the most of the roles they have been assigned in this show and we see some delightful cameos that are not to be missed from the training instructor at the call centre to the girls working with Jean at the Parliament bolstering her self-worth and all the fellow soldiers and friends from home. It really is a huge team effort.

The show is a little bit of a slow burn, not the fault of RMTC, but it takes a little while to acclimatise to the accents and the dialect and to figure out all the relationships. Once the story kicks in properly though, it is a wonderful, energetic romp. I thoroughly enjoyed the show and despite seeing the dress rehearsal, I can tell that it will get slicker and even more energetic with audience responses to play off. Great singing, acting and choreography all combine to make this a foot-tapping extravaganza. The truly magnificent energy of the finale will have the audience on their feet willing to walk 500 Miles. Long live the music of the Proclaimers – national treasures of Scotland.

Andy Evans 09 May 2024

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