The Lyceum’s artistic director David Greig has written a serviceable adaptation that covers most of the story’s bases but lacks its romantic sweep, writes PATRICK MARMION.
Back then, the idea of the legendary Hollywood tough guy rocking up in the Highlands in a helicopter was out of this world. It made Forsyth’s story seem so much bigger and less parochial.
This genial new musical version of the film could do with some of that A-list stardust. The Lyceum’s artistic director David Greig has written a serviceable adaptation that covers most of the story’s bases but lacks its romantic sweep.
And even with songs by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, developing his original film score for the stage, John Crowley’s production feels a bit run-of-the-mill.
I wondered if a falling-out between the creative team and Forsyth was to blame. Forsyth’s film was full of Celtic pride and longing as the oil magnate’s lonely henchman ‘Mac’ tried to strike a deal with crafty Gaelic hillbillies to build an oil refinery in their fictional village of Ferness.
But Forsyth was reportedly sidelined last year and told that he should ‘cease to be actively involved’ in the show.
Part of what everyone loved about his film was the landscape, famous for the glowing wonders of the northern lights.
There’s no way you can create that on stage, but set designer Scott Pask has a go, with Luke Halls’s projections on a tongue-shaped screen dipping from above.
Sunsets appear as a streaky painting and the aurora borealis blooms like an electronic screensaver. Wouldn’t they have been better off leaving it to the audience’s imagination?
The set is otherwise a dingy hollow with a diminutive scale model of Ferness harbour. Luckily the famous red phone box is at least full size, for transatlantic calls to Houston (an unimaginably exciting idea in the Eighties).
Weirdly, though, the band is housed out of sight, in a corrugated iron drum. The one time they join the cast for a ceilidh, the stage fills with life and colour. Then it’s back to their bunker and muffled obscurity.
The famous Knopfler twang runs through the music still, but the nostalgic theme tune barely gets a look in.
The songs are instead a folksy string of beads with few to get the audience clapping and none that stayed in my head.
What choreography we get is little more than pogoing and synchronised finger clicks.
That said, Matthew Pidgeon is thoroughly likeable in the Denis Lawson role of kingpin Gordon who is lawyer, accountant and publican to the people. Likewise, Katrina Bryan, as his wife Stella, stokes just about enough love in Damian Humbley as the bamboozled American errand boy Mac.
But the brightest colour comes from Adam Pearce as the Soviet lothario who is a vestige of the days when we thought Russians really were communists, not gangster capitalists in waiting.
Even so the cast could all do with the lift of some star quality. Couldn’t they have grabbed a great Scot such as Peter Capaldi for one of the roles? Especially since he starred in the original?
The show is liked well enough in Edinburgh. But it should be a story to love, not like. When it upscales to London’s Old Vic it could seem very exposed.
Source: Northern Lights but no stardust in Local Hero, writes PATRICK MARMION