Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film about a US oil exec who comes to Scotland and falls for the place and its people is beloved by many. It’s easy to see why – it’s a film of immense charm, a love letter to the transformative beauty of Scotland.
David Greig’s warm, new musical version has been adapted in consultation with Forsyth and features a slew of new songs from the composer of the original soundtrack, Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler.
Mac (Damian Humbley) is a Houston oilman sent by his eccentric, comet-obsessed boss to the tiny Scottish coastal village of Ferness to buy up the beach and build a refinery. Once there, he befriends pub landlord-slash-lawyer Gordon (Matthew Pidgeon) and his Glasgow-born girlfriend Stella (Katrina Bryan). As he brokers a deal with the locals, the town starts to cast a spell on him. He gains a new appreciation for the stars, the sea, the sand, and his tininess in the scheme of things.
Greig’s adaptation jettisons some of characters, the mermaid business and much of the stuff with the bunny. One of the major strengths of John Crowley’s production is its gentleness. It doesn’t over-egg the 1980s setting and there are no overt Trump references despite the obvious parallels. It doesn’t overly romanticise small town Scottish life either; the fishing industry was in decline and most of the characters grab at the chance to inflate their bank accounts, as made clear in the song Filthy Dirty Rich.
Designer Scott Pask has conjured the coastal town using five oxidised blocks to represent the sea wall and a clutch of miniature houses along with a tiny version of the film’s famous red phone box. Knopfler’s music and Paul Arditti’s sound design create a sense of the sea as a presence, while the top half of the stage is taken up by a curved screen that video designer Luke Halls uses as a planetarium, streaked with comets, glowing green, then red.
Humbley is charming, if a bit too polished, as Mac, his transformation too swift, but he’s an ingratiating presence and has a nice rapport with the genial Pidgeon. Bryan gives a nuanced and strong performance as Stella, regretful, reflective, complex, with a fine voice. There are several good ensemble numbers, including the driving That’ll Do Me, in which the townspeople dream of what they’ll do with the money they make from the sale, and a party scene in which everyone get increasingly sozzled as the night wears on and Mac gets his first glimpse of the aurora borealis.
While some of the songs feel like filler and there’s nothing that matches the evocative beauty of the original score, Greig’s version works because it has a handle on what made the film so appealing. It captures its essence, its warmth, in a moving ode to Scotland and its skies.