When Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre announced that they were producing a stage musical based on the iconic 1983 Scottish film Local Hero, I must admit to wondering if it was (a) a sign that one of Scotland's most successful producing theatres had decided to play safe with a familiar brand; and (b) little more than an exercise in nostalgia. Let’s just say that, as a critic, I'm now looking out for anywhere selling humble pie.
Though lacking an obvious showstopper, Knopler's songs feel familiar and dramatically satisfying, rooted in character and story.
In many respects, though, I WAS right. The marketing (with a strong emphasis on that iconic red telephone box) deliberately stokes its audience’s nostalgia for the film. More importantly, Artistic Director David Greig and the film's writer/director Bill Forsyth have not attempted an update. While simplifying and focusing the story, they've ensured anyone fond of the 1983 movie will not be disappointed; the most striking differences are those of tone, not story. The humour is slightly more cutting; the men, boyish in Forsyth’s film, are a tad tougher, albeit still nowhere as mature as the women in their lives.
Indeed, the undoubted star of the show, and effective co-lead within this consummately balanced ensemble, is Katrina Bryan as Stella, hotel cook and partner of the local hotelier. She alone among the villagers realises that the money from an American oil company, intent on buying the village to build an oil refinery, comes at too high a price. The significance in this is her perspective: Stella’s an incomer from Glasgow – a “blown-in” rather than someone born in the village. Bryan is a strong performer, but Greig and Forsyth give her – like many of the female cast – some great material.
Back in 1983, Forsyth’s Local Hero appeared somewhat prescient, asking those materialistic, money-obsessed 1980s to take a long hard look at themselves. Nearly four decades later, its story of a Scottish fishing Village easily seduced by the big Bucks of an American Oil Company, touches on wider questions about value, quality of life, and the disconnect between what humanity can (or thinks it can) do to its environment, and what those ecosystems actually need in order to sustain themselves. It helps that Greig and Forsyth opt to keep this a period piece, before the rise of global social media.
Director John Crowley and his team do well to suggest the film’s “gloaming” cinematography, by projecting various sunsets and aurora onto a planetarium-style screen, but arguably the surprise is Mark Knopler’s score. Though lacking an obvious showstopper, his songs feel familiar and dramatically satisfying, rooted in character and story. Wisely, he carefully rations the use of the film’s beautifully melancholic main theme, keeping it pretty much for the end where it undoubtedly works best.