In the midst of TV schedules filled with broadcasters’ attempts at spoon-feeding viewers with Z-list celebrity reality shows, while supermarket shelves buckle under the weight of countless Jennifer Aniston DVDs, it’s easy to dismiss populist entertainment as a Very Bad Thing, a wasteland where “entertainers” are only as good as their current marketing mix.
One place where populist isn’t a four letter word is in musical theatre, the demand for larger-than-life spectacle as strong as ever. This was evidenced last night by the large crowd who turned up at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre to see the latest Dundee Rep production of Sunshine on Leith, the musical based on the songs of The Proclaimers, as it rolled into town.
Within seconds of the curtain going up we’re introduced to Davy (Billy Boyd) and Ally (Michael Moreland), two soldiers fresh out of the army and back on the streets of Edinburgh (sorry, Leith) as they look to rebuild their lives.
Safe in the bosom of their families, the lads are soon fully paid up members of the rat race, women, jobs and football replacing the harsh realities of the desert. As the pair try to follow the path their parents took, looking to settle down and raise families, it becomes clear that even thirty years of marriage isn’t without its traumas.
Writer Stephen Greenhorn may pepper his heavily-colloquialised dialogue with such hits as I’m On My Way (as Davy and Ally make their way down an alternate universe Leith Walk, one inhabited by dancing grannies and drunks hanging out of wheelie bins (actually, that last bit might well be fact)) and Life With You (as various men explain how they want to spend their lives with their women), but this highly literal odyssey manages to avoid tying itself up in knots just to get to the next well-staged dance routine.
Eliciting murmurs of recognition to local references and the odd spontaneous cheer from an audience delighted to see their city on the stage, the production coasts along on the charm of a cast led by the ever-chirpy Boyd and John Buick as his morally-challenged dad, Rab. There’s even a cheeky reference to the Greenhorn’s other well-known creation, River City, which is worth listening out for.
Commentary on army life and the meaning of love and relationships may rear their head, but really this is just an excuse to hear some memorable music played a few decibels louder than your iPod could manage, wonder why you haven’t listened to more Proclaimers songs and have a fantastic evening out at a shamelessly crowd-pleasing show.
Sunshine on Leith runs until Saturday 16 March at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre, visit the website for full details.