Bill Forsyth, David Greig and Mark Knopfler (music and lyrics)
Royal Lyceum Theatre and The Old Vic
Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
The opening number still sticks in my head—“A Barrel Of Crude”—which introduces us to Knox Oil and Gas and reminds us of all things petrochemical. “It’s amazing what you get in a barrel of crude.”
Amazing it was, back in 1983; now though the story has taken on a much darker significance with the our growing awareness of climate change and plastic pollution.
Bill Forsyth, David Greig and Mark Knopfler retain the charm and humour of the original, nodding to but not overplaying the serious message.
The musical like the film has a great ensemble, the Ferness villagers, united joyously by the chance of shared riches—“We’re Going To Make A Killing”—and then later also by hangovers—“Never Felt Better”. As in the film though, greed infects Ferness.
The story has been streamlined with some characters cut and others fleshed out, so that the focus is on Mac (Damian Humbley) the oil executive and Gordon (Matthew Pidgeon) and Stella (Katrina Bryan) who run the hotel.
Pidgeon delivers an electric performance as Gordon, especially with “Filthy Dirty Rich”, but it is the contrast between the three characters and their different journeys that make the piece.
The Oldsen and Marina subplot has disappeared into the waves, but in its place Stella becomes the conscience of the community, becoming more and more disillusioned by Mac and Gordon’s haggling over the price of Ferness.
Music plays a significant role in the film, so it feels a very natural evolution for the piece to become a musical, with Knopfler even using some of the singing from the film as with the Russian sailor Viktor (Adam Pearce) and his “Lone Star State”.
Even though it has been streamlined, the film's fans will still enjoy quite a few of the jokes and the main tune is still as haunting as ever. Yet it also stands alone, accessible to those who have no knowledge of the film, although I suspect it may encourage them to watch the film too.
If it doesn’t punch quite hard enough on an environmental level for some, that is perhaps because the central message is more about loneliness and belonging.
Of course humour and a serious message can coexist and I definitely found the show gave me that sensation. It’s amazing what you get in a barrel of crude...
Reviewer: Seth Ewin