With new music by Mark Knopfler, this stage adaptation of Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film is a delight.
“You can put a number on anything,” sings Mac, an American oil executive despatched to buy a beautiful Scottish coastal village in Local Hero, the new stage musical of the well-loved 1983 film by Bill Forsyth.
Not necessarily. In the same week that Local Hero premiered at Edinburgh’s Lyceum, Scottish government statisticians issued the first formal estimate of the worth of the country’s “natural capital” — but noted that their £273bn valuation did not take into account any “aesthetic appreciation”.
“Currently, there is no method in use that incorporates [such] considerations,” the government statisticians admitted.
With new music by former Dire Straits front man Mark Knopfler, creator of the original haunting soundtrack, it charts Mac’s arrival in fictional Ferness with plans to replace the village and its perfect beach with a flame-belching oil refinery.
Adapting such a beloved movie was a risky undertaking that has required some bold decisions. Forsyth, who co-wrote the musical with playwright David Greig, has complained of being frozen out of the project. But the adaption is a delight, combining the sympathetic humour of the original with fine songs and sharper laugh-lines.
The film’s two main female characters have been combined into Stella, partner of Gordon, the village hotelkeeper/accountant. Gordon, played with real wit by Matthew Pidgeon, and most of the community eagerly embrace the chance to become, as one of the best songs puts it, “Filthy Dirty Rich”. But Stella sides with the environmental conservatism of beach shack-dweller Ben. Soon she opens Mac’s eyes to the beauty of Ferness’s land, sea and skyscapes, evoked with effective economy by Scott Pask’s sets.
While some punches may have been pulled, and the lively pace flags slightly after the interval, this is a marvellous evening’s entertainment with a real appreciation both for the economic realities that make the villagers so keen to sell and the inestimable emotional cost of concreting a beautiful coast.
The show is perfectly suited to Edinburgh’s relatively intimate Lyceum, where on press night the enthusiasm of the applause spoke both of pleasure and of relief that the musical had enhanced and not spoiled memories of the film.