- United Kingdom Theatre Critic
The Proclaimers’ musical Sunshine on Leith has been taking the world by storm, particularly after its adaptation to film in 2013. Now, around five years later, and in the run up to the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s closure for major refurbishment and redevelopment in the coming months, the theatre has mounted a brand new production of the musical. With the Playhouse’s Artistic Director James Brining directing, I looked forward to taking my seat in the Quarry Theatre and seeing his efforts to tell a story that timelessly stretches beyond the highland borders.
Sunshine on Leith primarily follows the story of two young soldiers, Ally and Davy (Paul-James Corrigan and Steven Miller respectively, as they return from Afghanistan to their home of Edinburgh. Ally is thrilled to be back home with his girlfriend Liz (Neshla Caplan), who introduces Davy to her friend Yvonne (Jocasta Almgill), and we watch as each couple finds out how far they would go for love. Meanwhile, Davy’s dad Rab (Phil McKee) receives a letter from a daughter he didn’t know he had from an affair at the start of his marriage, and we also watch as his wife Jean (Hilary Maclean) comes to terms with this and questions her love for her husband.
Throughout the narrative, some of The Proclaimers’ very best songs serve as storytelling devices, and it is in these moments where Brining’s directorial vision truly comes into its own. His meticulous, sensitive weaving and arrangement of these moments gives real lift and dramatic impact to the narrative, and the piece as a whole is supercharged with emotional intensity that grips the audience as it progresses.
There is a joyous, uplifting sense of teamwork permeating throughout this production, and there is an overarching sense of commanding actor musicianship throughout the whole company, composed of the core performers and the band. It is this sense of command, ease and confidence that brings real clarity to the musical, setting it 500 miles apart from musicals that feel fragmented as their narratives and musical numbers unfold. Brining has engendered a real sense of solidarity in his directorial vision, which drives the narrative forward and allows his performers to shine in their portrayals and execution of the narrative. It would simply be unjust to single out performers in this review; each and every member of the company maintains a sense of presence, place and gravitas as they collectively come together to tell the story.
From seeing and reviewing my first show at the Playhouse, I have always enjoyed the scenographic collaborations between Brining and his designers, particularly his work with designer Colin Richmond. In Sunshine on Leith, Richmond’s set and costumes carry that same sense of presence and ease that the actors maintain. His sets have always been concisely functional, and it is a joy in this production to watch as the actors navigate his set design that allows flexibility; as set pieces fly in and building fronts and interiors swiftly take us to new places, the momentum of the piece as a whole is pushed even further. Tim Mitchell’s lighting design further aids this, adding to the clarity of the narrative and completing the sense of slickness that pulses throughout one of my favourite collaborations between Brining and his designers so far.
This production of Sunshine on Leith is truly something special. It has a special power to stir the hearts of its audiences – for me, it reminded me why I love being an actor and a theatre reviewer. It is a true joy to watch this story unfold, and is by far one of the best West Yorkshire Playhouse productions I’ve had the privilege of reviewing. It’s uplifting, emotionally riveting and completely engaging from start to finish.
Sunshine on Leith is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 19th May and then goes on tour. For more information and tickets, visit: https://www.wyp.org.uk/events/sunshine-on-leith/