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Local Hero (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: Local Hero

Society: Chichester Festival Theatre (professional)

Venue: Minerva Theatre. Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester PO19 6AP

Credits: Book by David Greig. Music & Lyrics by Mark Knopfler. Based on the Bill Forsyth film.

Local Hero

4 stars

There’s a great deal of rather attractive warm wistfulness in this new musical. It’s based on the 1982  Bill Forsyth film which I have never seen so, presumably unlike most of the audience, I took it at face value rather than making comparisons.

We’re in North West Scotland during the oil boom. An American company, represented by Mac (Gabriel Ebert) wants to buy the whole village in order to build a refinery. The well defined locals – very pleasing ensemble work – are divided between desperately wanting to become “filthy dirty rich” (good dance rhythm) and concern for the beautiful environment  which has been home to their families for hundreds of years. Line such as “Places change. It’s people you need to hold on to” and “You can’t eat scenery” pepper the dialogue. There’s also a subplot about searching for a comet in “the best skies in the world” and it is that which eventually saves the day – sort of.

So how do you depict all this in the theatre-in-the-round setting of the Minerva Theatre? Frankie Bradshaw’s outstanding set combined with Ash J Woodward’s video designs do a first rate, totally convincing job. The back wall is lined with a huge white concave screen arching towards the audience. On it we get Shetland’s glorious skies, the aurora borealis, stars and more. Meanwhile some of the rostra are removed, not far into the piece, to reveal a sandy beach at the front. It’s both ingenious and evocative. At other times, in contrast we see flown down strip lights and wheeled on desks with lots of phones for office scenes in America and a homely bar which is trundled on and off for pub scenes back in Scotland.

Inevitably Mac finds things and people to love in the place he has come to destroy and eventually goes native until, regretfully, he has to leave because circumstances change. Ebert develops the character effectively – initially brash and determined and ultimately a lonely figure of loss. His scenes with Stella (Lillie Flynn – lovely work) are moving. Paul Higgins as the local hotelier, who also does legal advice and accountancy, finds all the appropriately conflicted pragmatism tempered with loyalty and uncertain love for Stella, is strong.

This show is, however, a musical not a straight play and the music is, for the most part, seamlessly grafted in rather than bolted on. The first rate seven piece band is seated on a raised stage right platform on which actors sometimes appear briefly too. Songs often start as speech – especially from Hilton Macrae, the wise beachcomber who gives a strong performance but evidently isn’t a singer. Occasionally we get vibrant ensemble numbers such as “That’d Do Me” and when Ebert gets going he has a fine light tenor voice. Several of the women, especially, Flynn sing with rich clarity too.

It’s a bit obvious to end Act 1 with an energetic ceilidh and then start Act 2 with a hangover scene but it’s a minor gripe.


First published by Sardines:

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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