There’s an old showbiz saying that goes ‘always send ‘em away wanting more’ and that is true of West Yorkshire Playhouse Artistic Director, James Brining inspired choice of Sunshine on the Leith as  the production that sees the Quarry Theatre close its doors for a year for major renovations to take place.

As a theatre critic, almost weekly I see new and re-packaged productions. Some are good, some are very good and some very bad. However, this musical doesn’t fit into any of these categories, its far beyond. It stands alone – an example of sheer excellence.

Stephen Greenhorn’s musical features the songs of the Proclaimers but this is no juke box musical. Although its plot might be a little light and fairly predictable it still pulls some poignant and dramatic punches.

The story revolves around Davy and Ally, who return to Leith after a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Ally is set on resuming his relationship with Ally’s sister, Liz.

Davy is unattached, so Liz decides to set him up with a blind date with one of her nursing colleagues Yvonne. As  usual there are the usual romantic problems, but surprises abound when Rab and Jean, Liz and Davy’s parents, celebrating 30 years of marriage, nearly come to the end of the road when a dark secret from the past is dramatically revealed.

To say this production moves fast and furiously is an understatement. Colin Richmond’s sets are brilliantly conceived. One truck revolves from a fully stocked bar to a room with cupboards and fridges in the wall, the piano becomes a hospital reception desk – all contributing to a seamless production that never ever flags.

Brining’s direction is dynamite, capturing the pathos of near death experiences to  hilarious call centre training and archetypal wedding reception punch-ups. The seven piece on stage band just melt into the proceedings  and  one number sees them  wheeled around in supermarket trolleys.

Emily-Jane Boyle’s choreography is imaginative, stylized and dynamic whilst David Shrubsole’s musical arrangements, particularly his rearrangement of ‘Letter to America’ are top notch.

But it’s the turbo-charged ensemble and principals that inject the energy, vitality and believability into this musical. Going from role to role, moving sets, executing complicated and athletic dance routines,  belting out numbers and often playing instruments makes this a cast of pure gold.

Sunshine on the Leith runs at West Yorkshire Playhouse until 19th May.

Liz Coggins is a member of The Critics Circle.


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