King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
It was coincidence that the latest Save Leith Walk public meeting, held to attempt to see off predatory property developers from bulldozing away local businesses, was on the opening night of the homecoming dates for Stephen Greenhorn’s Proclaimers-fired musical drama. Both events, however, laid bare the heart and soul of a neighbourhood that retains its independence on every level.
All the Leith iconography is present and correct in Greenhorn’s everyday epic, from the Dockers Club to Robbie’s bar. With the show given a fresh lease of life by the 2014 film version, James Brining’s eleventh anniversary revival for West Yorkshire Playhouse remains a masterful construction. Focusing on Ally and Davy, two ex-squaddies returning from Afghanistan, the script weaves a set of soap opera style scenarios around the pair’s respective love lives with Liz and Yvonne, as well as the complications of Davy and Liz’s parents’ thirty-year marriage.
Greenhorn’s writing is subtle and simple, bringing austerity culture, post-industrial decline and NHS cuts into the picture without ever banging a drum. Brining’s production is a big gorgeous ensemble piece led by Paul-James Corrigan, John McLarnon, Neshla Caplon and Jocasta Almgill as the central couples. In what becomes an emotional rollercoaster, Emily-Jane Boyle’s choreography is as street-smart as a latter-day West Side Story. The show’s drive, of course, comes from Craig and Charlie Reid’s remarkable songbook, beautifully sung by the cast to David Shrubsole’s chamber folk arrangements played by a six-piece band.
Most of all, Greenhorn’s play is a love letter, not just to the district that sired it, but to working class communities just like it that are having their gloriously messy souls ripped out. At the moment, Sunshine on Leith is a thing of joy and heartbreak that’s very much about now. Developers kill that at their peril.
The Herald, May 25th 2018