Minerva Theatre, Chichester
Music & Lyrics by Mark Knopfler
Book by David Greig
Based on the Bill Forsyth film
The twentieth century gave us few finer rock musicians than Mark Knopfler, whose talent both as a writer and guitarist place him as one of the UK's greats. In 1983 Knopfler wrote the score for Bill Forsyth’s BAFTA-winning film Local Hero and he has now now taken those themes penned some fourty years ago, weaving them into a musical based upon the movie.
Local Hero is a whimsical tale of humanity and the cosmos set amidst the Scottish Highlands. Offshore oil was big business for Scotland in the 70s and 80s and Forsyth’s story focussed on a Houston based oil corporation sending out Mac, a high-powered executive, to acquire the coastal village of Ferness together with its beach for the purposes of constructing a refinery. Mac arrives amongst the canny villagers who are quick to sense the fortune that may be coming their way, and in an era that long pre-dated the internet or even mobile phones, one of the story’s most cosily comforting images is the village's old red telephone box on the beach that proves Mac’s only way of privately communicating with his USA Head Office. Of course the plans do not proceed as anticipated – love, charm and a respect for nature and the stars combine to chart a course that leads to an unexpected but decisively happy and inspiring ending.
Broadway's Tony-winner Gabriel Ebert makes his UK debut in the role of Mac. His is a performance of charm and assured voice, completely believable as the Texan city-slicker who falls for the beauty of Ferness' remote idyll. Opposite Mac is Paul Higgins as Gordon, the village’s pub-landlord cum accountant cum lawyer, who is appointed to negotiate with the oilman and strike the best deal possible. The musical’s triangular love interest comes from Lillie Flynn’s Stella who forges an emotional connection with both men. Arguably stealing the show however is Hilton McRae’s beachcomber Ben, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of the stars in the Scottish skies serves to bring together the narrative’s various strands.
Daniel Evans directs a sensitive ensemble piece from his company which is only enhanced by Frankie Bradshaw’s set design that ingeniously transforms into a sandy, pebble-strewn beach. Ash J Woodward offers up video projections that strive to create the aurora borealis in deepest West Sussex – an effect that relies heavily upon the audience’s ability to imagine the Northern Lights.
The production's star of course is unquestionably Mark Knopfler’s rich score. His original movie soundtrack offered up a raft of melodies, most of which have been fused into the stage show and it is a mark of the man’s talent that he has been able to create so many songs from these gaelic and celtic themes. The music is powerful, stirring and fresh, containing a heady mix of beautiful balladry and rousing numbers written for guitars and violin. That musical director Richard John’s seven piece band contains no less than three guitarists speaks to Knopfler’s love affair with strings.
This is a show built around Knopfler’s love for Local Hero, itself one of the finest British movies. It makes for an evening of charming, gorgeous theatre.
Runs until 19th November
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan