Local Hero

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

Five stars

There was always a beautiful sleight of hand about Local Hero, Bill Forsyth’s big screen hymn to the transformative power of Scotland’s rural landscape. On the one hand, Forsyth’s iconic tale of an American oil company’s attempt to buy up the fictional village of Ferness is a charmingly romantic study of the power of the little guy in the face of being made an offer they can’t refuse. On the other, with free-market economics in full swing when the film was released in 1983, its take on community spirit defeating corporate capitalism was the gentlest of protests.

Thirty-six years on, this feels like the case even more in this gorgeous new stage musical based on Forsyth’s original screenplay, and co-written by Forsyth and the Lyceum’s artistic director David Greig. Featuring nineteen new songs by the film’s original composer, Mark Knopfler, director John Crowley’s co-production between the Lyceum and the Old Vic is a loving and immaculately crafted take on the original story.

Damian Humbly’s oil man Mac is dispatched to Ferness to set in motion plans to build a refinery, moving from a big-suited life of shiny skyscrapers, electronic briefcases and digital watches to a place where everybody cuts three jobs to make ends meet. Mac has an epiphany inspired by Matthew Pidgeon’s dancing hotel manager accountant, Gordon, his sort-of wife Stella, played with understated steel by Katrina Bryan, and Ben, Julian Forsyth’s wise old man of the sea.

Set beneath Luke Halls’ exquisite video projections on Scott Pask’s minimal set, Crowley’s production remains faithful to the essence of its source, with the show’s full fifteen-strong acting ensemble rising to the occasion. Their performances are heightened even more by Lucy Hind’s movement direction and a live seven-piece band overseen by Dave Milligan, who lace Knopfler’s songs with a poignancy and warmth that makes them the heart of the show. Arriving onstage at a time when billionaire bullies are running the world’s natural resources into the ground, this is a joyful gaze at a sky-full of possibilities beyond.