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Sunshine on Leith: The Bijou Spiegeltent, Assembly Rooms

I recall going into a Fringe venue in 2022 fairly late in the evening to catch the last show of the day there, and I had arrived with plenty of time to spare. People were streaming out of the previous show, and that audience were so happy you’d be forgiven for thinking they were all part of a giant Lottery syndicate that had won the jackpot. So I asked the venue staff what the previous show was. I couldn’t fit Sunshine on Leith into my schedule last year, so was rather excited when it was announced it would be back for Fringe 2023.

Sunshine on LeithIt’s a popular show – Leith itself being but a bus or tram ride (or even a long walk) away from the Assembly Rooms in central Edinburgh – and of the sixty-four shows I saw this year, this one had by far the largest number of Scottish people in attendance in absolute terms and as a proportion of the audience as a whole. A circus tent in the middle of George Street wasn’t the most ideal venue, what with external noise bleeding in during quieter and more poignant moments in the show. It was also a tad too small, both in the sense that Captivate Theatre could well have sold out a larger venue, and in the sense that the stage looked too crowded in the big ensemble numbers.

But there was much to enjoy from the start, seeing army boys Ally and Davy coming back from overseas military operations. They reintroduce themselves to life on ‘civvy street’ – a scene during a training session at a call centre for an insurance company had me in stitches. The sound balance between the band and the actors singing was varied – the irony was not lost on the audience that not every word could be heard in a song about communicating with clarity.

The title track is sung beautifully by Hazel Beattie’s Jean, and the story is a riveting one – there’s heartache but it’s never overly sentimental. There are life and career choices to be made along the way: Rab (Sandy Queenan) has a skeleton in the closet, which wife Jean finds out about before Rab has plucked up the courage to tell her himself. Their daughter Liz, meanwhile, has a lucrative overseas job offer, and there’s a marriage proposal turned down – in a musical!

Scene changes were made obvious by members of the cast moving through the audience, entering and exiting through the aisles. Dance purists may not like the ‘armography’ in the final number, ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ – what else would a show full of songs written by The Proclaimers close out with? – but that is a very negligible point in a production with a lot of passion and joy. An excellent and exhilarating experience.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Sunshine on Leith follows the highs and lows of Ally and his friend Davy as they search for normality after returning from a tour in Afghanistan. Family and friendship are not all plain sailing in this funny and moving story about love and life. Sunshine on Leith is a vibrant, energetic piece of musical theatre loved by audiences and critics alike.

Sunshine on Leith
3.30pm 3rd – 26th August 2023 (1hr 30min)
Venue: The Bijou Spiegeltent, Assembly Rooms, Assembly Festival, 54 George Street, EH2 2LR

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