MURRAY FRASER opens in LOCAL HERO at CFT with video design by ASH J WOODWARD ★★★★


Local Hero: a beloved film turned into a remarkable musical comedy


Bill Forsyth’s famous 1983 movie gets a dazzling stage makeover in this new production at Chichester Festival Theatre

It is easy to tell a cautionary tale of development: big money comes in, bulldozes over nature, history and community. Another cliché is the story of an arrogant city-dweller finding their view on life transformed by the ways of more simple rural folk. The strength of this production of Local Hero is that it draws on such narrative tropes, but injects them with an irreverence and an existential philosophy to create a far more interesting production than most other musicals on the UK stage.

Adapted from Bill Forsyth’s beloved 80s film, Local Hero tells the tale of slick Texan oil exec Mac MacIntyre (Tony award-winner Gabriel Ebert, in his UK stage debut), who is sent to the Scottish fishing village of Ferness to convince the locals to sell up to allow the building of a new oil refinery. Most of the villagers are, perhaps surprisingly, more than happy to oblige. But there are two crucial objectors: young hotel cook Stella – played with bright-eyed fire by Lillie Flynn – and beach-dwelling Old Ben, who lives off whatever is sent his way by the Gulf Stream, and is played with riddling wisdom by Hilton McRae.

Original music from Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler – some new, some from his score for the film – combines with Sasha Milavic Davies’s choreography, and design from Frankie Bradshaw, to create dazzling set pieces filled with period colour. The action opens with a chaotic jazzy skit that is a Reaganomic fever dream in the oil Mecca of Houston, complete with chunky 80s computers, big hair, and even bigger shoulder pads. Suddenly, though, the suits are gone, and an array of quirky villagers in knitted Arran Island jumpers are in their place. The silver boardroom becomes a sandy beach, and electric guitar is replaced with a fiddle.

The pace of the village is slow: a ceilidh before the interval seems to stretch on for about half an hour, making it feels like we are a fly-on-the-wall in a real-life village, as opposed to watching a plot-driven moral tale. This arena allows for a spiritual exploration of our purpose in life: some of us, like Old Ben, operate in synchronicity with the subterranean rhythms of the world, while others of us, like the Knox Oil Corporation, seek only to exploit them.

Local Hero blends exuberant musical comedy with an anti-capitalist cautionary tale and rumination on our place in the universe. David Greig’s script also shows a strong appreciation for the random, including a largely dissatisfying central love story, a Trump-like oil company boss with an obsession with the cosmos, and a bathetic conclusion that reminds us how so often things do not work out as intended. It is also a wonderfully evocative homage to coastal Scottish life: I had Gaelic folk tunes ringing through my head all the way back to London.

Local Hero is at Chichester Festival Theatre until November 19; Tickets 01243 781312 or

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