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Sunshine on Leith (Tour - Northampton)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Rarely have I come across a show more desperate to be loved. From the jaunty spring in the dance captain’s every step to the rousing entreaties to join in the chanting final chorus of I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), there’s enthusiasm and energy at every turn.

This is The Proclaimers musical and, like the Reid twins who created the songs, it’s quirky, amusing and something of an acquired taste. Like a good malt whisky.

The performances are terrific. Billy Boyd is charming, vocally superb and a vital central focus as Davy, one of the two childhood pals who return to Leith together after leaving the army. Michael Moreland as his foil Ally is gritty and truthful, and their pairing is strongly reminiscent of the Proclaimers themselves. As Davy’s parents, Ann Louise Ross and – understudying magnificently – George Drennan put in a wonderful and poignant double act, while love interests Jo Freer and Zoe Rainey sing and act delightfully.

There’s able support from a large company, too, and a vibrant pit band under musical director Hilary Brooks. However, there’s a lot missing where the crucial heart of the show should be, and it’s not just the fact that two well-known songs is not enough of a back catalogue on which to build a jukebox musical.

Writer Stephen Greenhorn has created a script around the songs in which there’s simply not enough story. Each episodic scene feels little more than a justification to shoe-horn in an appropriate number: thus one character is made to emigrate to Florida as an excuse for her parents to sing Letter From America.

And for a show that warns in its own dialogue of the dangers of stereotyping, there’s a whole Dundee cake of cardboard cutout Scottishness on display, from the drinking, smoking, fried-breakfast-eating dad who suffers a massive coronary to the anniversary ceilidh that descends into a drunken brawl. Director James Brining mines some nice moments – the pre-fight ceilidh is touching and powerful, and the pub soccer fans’ rendition of Let’s Get Married is a big production number – but it’s barely enough to carry the show. That job is left to the infectious, catchy songs, and while they’re just about up to it, it’s a musical that is always going to score more highly in Edinburgh or Aberdeen than in the Sassenach south.

- MICHAEL DAVIES Until November 13, 2010, then tour continues.


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