Sunshine on Leith at Pitlochry Festival Theatre and King's Theatre in Edinburgh – review
The revival runs in Edinburgh from 7 to 18 June before returning to Pitlochry through to 1 October 2022
Almost everything I've reviewed for WhatsOnStage has happened in Glasgow or Edinburgh, so I'm a little ashamed to admit that, having lived in Scotland for twenty years, this is the first time I've ever set foot in the Pitlochry Festival Theatre.
Pitlochry itself is an attractive Highland tourist town about halfway between Inverness and the Central Belt. The theatre can trace its origins back to the 1950s, and has a long-established season that's particularly busy during the summer holiday months. It's a simple but lovely horseshoe auditorium with a renovated front-of-house space that has open views out to Ben Vrackie and the River Tummel running past, and they now have a newly opened Studio Theatre, too. This new production of Sunshine on Leith is the first time the theatre has been able to reopen since covid (they managed some outdoor and online performances last summer), and I'm pleased to report it was buzzing. In fact, it felt a little like a community reunion, with lots of people sitting around having lunch, and several groups swapping stories ("Were you here before it all changed?"). I was particularly impressed with how wide the geographical reach of its audience is: I overheard couples who said they'd come from Glasgow, Inverness or Dundee.
The theatre puts together an ensemble of actors for the summer season, most of whom will double up on roles in several shows, so I imagine that must reinforce the sense of the community, and the theatre is very proud of the fact that, at certain points in the summer, you can see six plays in six days. It's also a sign of prestige that they're doing joint productions with other companies: this Sunshine, the first new professional production of the show in Scotland since its original incarnation of 2007, is a co-production with Capital Theatres Edinburgh.
It looks and sounds great. Adrian Rees' high-table sets are open and airy, topped with Toytown cutouts of Edinburgh landmarks to give a strong sense of place. They trundle around the stage to evoke different locations with minimum fuss, and I liked the way they allow the band to sit at the centre of the action rather than being hidden offstage. Nearly all of the actors play a musical instrument too, and the ensemble of musicians gets stuck into the action alongside the main characters, swinging their violin, cello, guitar or whatever, in a way that feels like everyone's having a laugh.
The two male leads are strong. Connor Going's Davy seems a little more comfortable than the Ally of Keith Jack, but they both have good charisma and an important sense of mateship. The girls are even better: Blythe Jandoo and Rhiane Drummond play their parts with a strong sense of girl power, and never a sense that they're just the love interest. Jandoo's lead in "Letter from America" is particularly strong. Keith Macpherson is a little histrionic as dad Rab, but Alyson Orr's Jean balances understatement with the character's lifesized emotional journey.
Directors Elizabeth Newman and Ben Occhipinti could give their actors a little more to do – there's a lot of open-armed shrugging to accompany the dialogue – and writer Stephen Greenhorn shouldn't really have bothered with his tweaks to the original script: the references to referendums and NHS privatisation feel a bit strained. And you could drive an Edinburgh tram through the holes in the story; but nobody goes to see a duke box musical for focused narrative cogency. You go for the songs, and they really swing, thanks as much to the terrific ensemble musicians as to the singing of the leads. I also loved the little scenes that took place away from the main action in, for example, the call centre or the Scottish Parliament. This is a strong show given a new lease of life, and the chances are you'll leave it with a big smile on your face.