The Scotsman’s Joyce McMillan talks to David Greig, artistic director at The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, about the making of the stage musical adaptation of the cult film Local Hero.
New staging brings the iconic 1983 movie’s themes and characters into sharper focus.
Review by David Kettle
“Cult” is probably an over-used adjective, especially when it comes to movies. But there’s undoubtedly something truly special about Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film – about a Texan oil executive on a mission to buy up a section of the Scottish coast for a vast new refinery, only to end up falling in love with the place – that makes it so warmly cherished by certain viewers.
Maybe it’s Local Hero’s disarming mix of laid-back whimsy and harder drama, its unapologetic sentimentality, its surreal eccentricity, its gentle humour. Or maybe it’s the movie’s ironic role-reversal, as villagers grow impatient to plunder their new-found wealth while the swaggering incomer grows ever more enraptured with the place. It’s a mix that’s undoubtedly helped by Mark Knopfler’s evocative original score, whose guitar theme “Going Home” alone can transport you straight back to the ramshackle charm of Ferness and its iconic phone box.
Local Hero creator Bill Forsyth claims that he’s been dumped by the makers of a musical based on his film
ITS blend of gentle humour and stunning scenery made it one of the most iconic films ever to come out of Scotland.
But the mastermind behind Local Hero claims he has been dumped from the upcoming theatre adaptation of his beloved movie – leaving him ‘in a state of shock’.
Bill Forsyth, the writer and director of the 1980s box-office hit, spent more than three years collaborating on the new stage version of his story, alongside playwright David Greig.
But the 72-year-old Glaswegian claims he has been told he should ‘cease to be actively involved’ in the highly anticipated project, due to open this month.
Local Hero, released in 1983, tells the story of American oil company executive Mac – played by Peter Riegert – who is sent to the fictional village of Ferness.
His mission is to buy up the place to make way for a refinery – but things do not go to plan when Mac ends up falling in love with the quaint village. The Ferness scenes – including those with the movie’s famous red phone box –were shot in Pennan, Banffshire.
Mr Forsyth won the 1984 Bafta award for direction for the film.
But he claims he has not been involved in the new musical adaptation of his Bafta-nominated screenplay since last year, when he was suddenly dropped from the creative team.
He said he has received only one email since then from Mr Greig.
The decision is said to have been made during a lunch with the musical’s producer, Patrick Daly, who had initially approached Mr Forsyth to help on the project.
Mr Forsyth – awarded a Bafta for his contribution to Scottish film in 2009 – told The Times: ‘What he said was, I should stop working on the musical and not be involved in any more workshops.
‘He [Mr Daly] said, “You can turn up with the execs and play an editorial part at the end of the process”, which I didn’t take to at all. They wanted me to step back, be a good boy and keep smiling. I left in a state of shock.’
The theatre production, which opens on March 23 at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, is the first time Local Hero has been adapted for the stage.
Former Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler – who composed the movie’s soundtrack – has created music for the stage show.
Mr Greig said he was ‘very sad’ to hear Mr Forsyth’s claims that he was being excluded.
He added: ‘I will immediately be getting in contact. We were expecting Bill to come to previews and to be offering thoughts and notes, and we were very much looking forward to welcoming him to the show.
‘I can’t stress enough that there’s so much of him in it, not just the original. He was a deep part of the drafting of the stage show.’
A spokesman for the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company said it was hoped that Mr Forsyth would attend the opening night show.
She said: ‘It’s a real privilege to work with Bill on bringing his beloved story, Local Hero, to the stage.
‘As Mark Knopfler developed a new score of 19 new songs, Bill Forsyth and David Greig worked closely together on several drafts of the script to ensure this transformation to the theatre retained the magic and essence of Bill’s film. As such, we are sad and surprised if he has felt in any way excluded from the creative process.’
The spokesman said that the musical’s director, John Crowley, and the entire stage play’s team had ‘always considered Bill’s voice to be central and integral’.
Without it, she added, any telling of Local Hero would simply not be possible.
The spokesman said: ‘Bill has been engaged with all script developments, and invited to attend each workshop and to all key rehearsal dates.
‘We sincerely hope Bill will be with us on opening night. The Lyceum and its partners would be so proud to share with him the experience of seeing his wonderful story in its new life on stage.’
‘They wanted me to be a good boy’
It is one of the most eagerly awaited theatre productions of recent years but there will be one notable absentee at its world premiere.
Bill Forsyth, the writer and director of the film Local Hero, has said that he has been frozen out of a musical based on the film and will boycott the opening in Edinburgh this month.
Forsyth, who has spent the past three years collaborating on the show with the playwright David Greig, has been told that he should “cease to be actively involved” in the project.
A statement from the theatre said: “As Mark Knopfler developed a new score of 19 new songs, Bill Forsyth and David Greig worked closely together on several drafts of the script to ensure this transformation to the theatre retained the magic and essence of Bill’s film. “As such, we’re sad and surprised if he has felt in any way excluded from the creative process. “A world class creative team, director, designers and musicians have been assembled to create the show, all with Bill and Mark’s approval. “When a new stage show begins rehearsals, it is this team which forms and shapes it for the theatre. John Crowley, the director, and the whole team have always considered Bill’s voice to be central and integral. Without it, any telling of Local Hero would simply not be possible.”
HE is one of the UK’s most successful musicians. A legend. Yet writing songs for a new musical version of the beloved film Local Hero put doubts in the mind of even Mark Knopfler.
A surprise, perhaps. Knopfler, whose band Dire Straits sold millions of records, has also enjoyed a successful solo career after all.
Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film is finally being brought to the stage in the form of a musical, with new songs written by Knopfler, a story adapted by David Greig and Bill Forsyth, and directed by John Crowley.
He penned the soundtrack to the original film. Yet he admitted he was initially uncertain whether he could write songs for a musical.
Knopfler said: “It has got to have that theme in it, or it is not Local Hero is it? But I couldn’t just ape the film musically.
“I didn’t even know if I could do it, at all: and maybe I can’t, you may very well judge that.
“I really enjoyed doing it, I just found that – because I love the film so much and because I never stopped loving it, it moves me – it wasn’t too difficult to get into the characters.
As it turned out, the songs flowed, and along with instrumentals, including its famous plangent main theme from the original film, there are, according to Crowley “some heartbreaking ballads, and some very funny, character-sketch songs” in the show, which opens on March 23.
The musical, being produced by the Lyceum and the Old Vic in London, is set in 1983, and the plot follows the plot of the movie which sees conflicted Texan Mac visiting the Scottish village of Ferness to acquire it to build an oil refinery.
“The final script was so delightful to work with, so it was natural to be able to do that, and with the respect for the film that we all have, our approach was pretty much on the same page,” he said.
“I was dubious about being able to do it and I made a tentative start, but I found that the energy that got released on it was great, and the feeling, that initial energy and optimism was justified.
“Musicals aren’t my thing, so I was going to feel doubtful about it. It is great never to have done it before: if I was an old hand at musicals I would have started going wrong straight away.”
Knopfler, who was born in Glasgow in 1949 and moved to Newcastle when he was seven, revealed he drew on his Scottish childhood musical memories for the more than 20 songs he has written for the show, which will debut at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh next month.
The production stars Damian Humbley as Mac, Katrina Bryan as Stella, Matthew Pidgeon as Gordon, the hotel owner, and Simon Rouse as oil baron Felix Happer, and there will be a live band on stage.
Knopfler, whose records have sold more than 100m copies, said putting the musical together had been “like a Rubik’s cube, but more complicated.”
He said: “Being a new boy, having never done anything like this before, it has been great. It is refreshing. You can make all kinds of fool of yourself, but I am just really glad I do not have David [Greig’s] job, it is much harder than it looks to make something that looks easy.”
Greig said: “The music takes in American music and elements of folk music, and just as a listener, there is something identifiable and particular as being very ‘Mark’ about it. You just know that they are Mark’s songs: it is quite hard to pinpoint what that is. It’s a very Scottish thing to have a bit of a foot in both sides of the Atlantic.”
Knopfler said that “the trans-Atlantic Blues” is a key feature of his music. He added: “I don’t think I could have done it otherwise. It is not too hard for me to find a way into Celtic music, because the first time I heard people singing music together would have been ‘Scotland The Brave’ or something, because my childhood was Glaswegian.
“I used to listen to records when I was very, very small, probably before I was two: I was listening to the radio and my mum singing. So it’s natural to me. So when people sometimes say to me: ‘How do you write that, or where does that come from, they sound a thousand years old?’ I think it is partly coming from Glasgow, and from being in Scotland, and from the north east, where my mother’s family is from. There are huge links between the Geordies and the Scots.”