After a sell-out run at last year’s Fringe, Sunshine on Leith is back this year with what can only be described as an hour and a half of fun, joy, and an absolute banger of a soundtrack. The musical, written by Stephen Greenhorn and featuring the songs of The Proclaimers, is an exploration and celebration of Scottish identity, following the love stories of three closely intertwined couples.
Amidst the upbeat tones of I’m on My Way and Oh Jean are more serious expressions of frustration; with working conditions for nurses in the NHS, with Brexit and the Scottish Independence referendum that happened one year after the film’s release. Such references to the political upheaval of Scotland and the way this impacts ordinary people are expertly woven into the musical’s dialogue; with Jean working as a cleaner in the same room Nicola Sturgeon gives her speeches, feeling detached from the idea that politicians would ever truly work in the interests of the people.
The song Throw the ‘R’ Away explores the character Ally’s accent, and his manager’s desire for him to speak ‘properly’ in his new job at an insurance agency. He remains defiant in speaking in his accent when he is told to sound ‘less Scottish’, and a fellow employee tells him, If you want money, dip your voice in honey.
Yet Sunshine on Leith could not stray further from this notion; the actors all spoke and sang in thick Edinburgh accents, and celebrated the city and its heritage at every given opportunity. The musical is truly a love song to Edinburgh.
It’s also worth mentioning the band, who worked harmoniously with the cast; the Rose Street venue had no space for a pit of any kind, and so the band were placed at the back of the stage. This worked to their advantage, as they became a part of the performance and not just the accompanying soundtrack. There were several times where they appeared as a live band performing to the cast in a pub.
Perhaps the most impressive actor of all was Hazel Beattle, who played Jean. She first came onto the stage as a fairly quiet and unassuming mother, but quickly transformed into the star of the show in Should Have Been Loved, when she suddenly realises her own self-worth and the importance of doing things for herself. The highlight of the show was her phenomenal rendition of Sunshine on Leith; you could feel that the audience were simply stunned, captivated by the raw emotion with which Beattle performed. I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a single tear in the room.
Sunshine on Leith is ultimately about being proud of who you are, who you surround yourself with, and where you come from. And this is exactly the kind of show the Fringe needs, where people gather from all around the world to see a show that is, in the simplest of terms, a celebration of Edinburgh.
Sunshine on Leith: 7-28th Aug, Rose Theatre, 20:30
Image used with permission of author, provided to The Student as press material.