Sunshine on Leith at Pitlochry Festival Theatre – review

The much-loved musical is back for a festive revival

Finlay Bain as Ally, Robbie Scott as Davy and the cast of Sunshine on Leith, © Fraser Band
Finlay Bain as Ally, Robbie Scott as Davy and the cast of Sunshine on Leith, © Fraser Band

Christmassy it ain’t, but Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s winter show is as certain to put a smile on your face as anything featuring holly or tinsel.

Sunshine on Leith’s unassailable strength is the back catalogue of songs by the Proclaimers, and it churns out banger after banger. There are the big hits like “Letter from America” and “500 Miles, of course, but the skill that playwright Stephen Greenhorn demonstrates is not just to shoehorn those into a narrative but to bring to light lots of the less well-known songs that serve the story too. Some are overtly sunny, others mine depths of human pain, but all of them are fundamentally affirmative looks at life that can’t help but uplift the listener (and they must be a treat to perform, too).

This is a revival of the show that Pitlochry staged in the summer of 2022, with some overlap of casting. Consequently, it feels like it has bedded in extremely well. Adrian Rees’ set designs put the musicians on the stage and weaves them in and out of the unfolding action. A silhouette of the Edinburgh skyline generates an overarching sense of place, and props glide in and out seamlessly to suggest the different locations.

The multi-tasking actors double up as musicians, and they’re great fun to watch. The central romantic pairings are characterised distinctly and carefully. Finlay Bain’s Ally has more of a wounded swagger than Robbie Scott’s more vulnerable Davy, and Fiona Wood’s Liz is more brittle than Sinead Kenny’s Yvonne. Next to them, Keith Macpherson and Alyson Orr carry effectively the extra life experience and the deeper pain of Davy’s parents, and they get the most heartfelt songs to sing, Orr giving her all to the title song while Macpherson sings “Oh Jean” with terrific gusto.

For all its skill, Greenhorn’s script doesn’t completely avoid the honking plot twists that are an occupational hazard of jukebox musicals. The denouement at the end of Act One, for example, has an unconvincingly heavy set of consequences hanging on it, and the writer could happily have taken the scissors to several scenes and lost nothing dramatically. The call centre sequence in Act One is particularly disposable: it’s basically an excuse to trot out a song about the Scottish accent that is a bit of fun but doesn’t further the drama an inch.

But these are all quibbles when it comes to what’s ultimately a feel-good show like this. By the time of the sing-a-long finale, the whole crowd was on its feet with hands in the air. There are lots of pantos across the country that don’t manage that.