Review: Local Hero (Lyceum Theatre)

The classic film about a tiny Scottish village is adapted for the stage

L-R) Helen Logan, Joanne McGuinness, Damian Humbley, Simon Rouse.
L-R) Helen Logan, Joanne McGuinness, Damian Humbley, Simon Rouse.
© Stephen Cummiskey

Until recently, traffic between stage and screen was almost all one-way: a show would become successful in the theatre, and they'd make it into a movie. Recently, however, the trend seems, if anything, to have reversed, and theatrical versions of films proliferate now.

This new musical adaptation of Local Hero demonstrates both the strengths and weaknesses of the process. Bill Forsyth's 1983 film has a cult following far beyond the borders of Scotland. The story of an oil executive, who is sent to buy a remote Scottish village but ends up falling in love with the community, was very much a product of its oil boom times, but it still speaks today to our concerns about the environment, as well as to its bittersweet sense of loneliness and loss.

Officially the book for the show is by Forsyth and the Lyceum's artistic director, David Greig, though recently Forsyth has complained of being shut out of the adaptation process. Barring a few brief caprices, the script treats Forsyth's screenplay pretty straight, and its directness is helped by Scott Pask's set designs, featuring a toytown version of Ferness village and an overhead screen on which is projected scenery suggestions from the aurora borealis to the stock prices of Knox Oil. It's simple but very effective, something that applies to John Crowley's production as a whole with its fluid scene changes and well delineated characters.

Those characters are all beautifully played, and they live entirely independently of their cinematic incarnations. Damian Humbley plays Mac with understated swagger and there's a genuineness to his journey of self-discovery. Matthew Pidgeon's Gordon dominates the ensemble, oozing character while staying on just the right side of being a wide boy, while the rest of the village are all brought to life with some lovely individual touches.

The songs are a problem, though. Mark Knopfler, whose soundtrack for the film became so iconic, has written a whole new set of songs for this production, but there's a severe lack of earworms, and none of them has lived in my memory, barring a folky number that bears a more than passing similarity to Knopfler's famous "Going home". Worse, the songs tended to hold up the action, particularly in the second half, where they begin to make one question why this is a musical at all. Why not just go for straight theatre if they couldn't conjure up some musical magic?

Nor is the script above blame. The denouement is too cosy – simpler than in the film – and I lost patience with the way that Stella, ably played by Katrina Bryant, overtly becomes the show's environmental conscience: by drawing attention to the story's moral it actually reduces its warmth.

The problems stop Local Hero from becoming an instant classic; but they don't stop it being lots of fun. It has warmth, humour, nostalgia and, for all its problems, heart.