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The Proclaimers musical Sunshine on Leith comes to Northern Stage, Newcastle

Audiences in Newcastle are being encouraged to bask in the Sunshine on Leith (aka Byker) this week

Director Mark Hedges and actors Rachel Johnson and Matthew Laidlaw
Director Mark Hedges and actors Rachel Johnson and Matthew Laidlaw

Byker might not be everyone’s first choice when it comes to booking a honeymoon - no offence Shields Road holidaymakers - but that’s where West End director Mark Hedges has spending his post-nuptial fortnight.

Mark his long term partner, Kris Manuel, at Tanfield Railway on August 16 - just two days before rehearsals began for his latest production, Sunshine on Leith... or as the cast and crew call it, Sunshine on Byker.

The musical play, which scored a hit with cinema audiences earlier this year when the heartwarming story set to the music of The Proclaimers was brought to the big screen, opens at Northern Stage on Thursday (Aug 28).

It’s the second show to come out of the S.A. Productions stable - a sister project to the popular Sage Academy of Performing Arts in Byker.

In 2012, they put on Our House, directed by acclaimed choreographer Lee Proud, and they’re returning for 2014 with a Geordie translation of the very Scottish Sunshine on Leith.

“It’s officially called Sunshine on Leith, but we’re calling it Sunshine on Byker because we’ve changed the setting and some of the language for a North East audience,” laughs Lucy Sage, who runs both the Sage Academy and the production company arm.

“The transfer to Newcastle... setting it in Byker has worked perfectly. Although the film was extremely Scottish, the themes and characters quite easily slot into a Newcastle setting.

“When the film came out, I was surprised how much I enjoyed it,” she continues. “It was one of those ones where you go in not really expecting too much, but I absolutely loved it.”

Rehearsals for Sunshine on Leith at Sage academy Byker. Actors Ryan Nolan and Faye Harrison
Rehearsals for Sunshine on Leith at Sage academy Byker. Actors Ryan Nolan and Faye Harrison

In the movie, the plot follows Davy and Ally, two recently discharged British Army servicemen who are returning to their homes and families in Edinburgh after a tour in Afghanistan. Ally returns to his girlfriend Liz, who is Davy’s sister and introduces him to her friend and colleague Yvonne, who becomes his girlfriend.

“I thought it was a really lovely film and it’s a lovely story too and there are a lot of young characters in the film, which worked well for us because we work a lot with young people,” says Lucy.

And that’s the difference with an S.A. Productions, production - the basic idea being that the show is the result of a fusion of professionals and new performers who are coming through.

“So half the cast are professionals - and all the crew are too - and the other half of the cast are those who have maybe just graduated or who are just starting out,” explains Lucy. “It’s such a great opportunity for them to work with seasoned professionals - like Mark - so early on in their careers.”

With a cast of more than 40 performers - including a group of children and professionals Zita Frith, Jason King and Rosie Ramsey (who is another newlywed following her recent marriage to stand up comedian Chris Ramsey) - Lucy says Mark’s ability to get the best out of the younger ensemble has been invaluable.

“We were so thrilled when Mark agreed to direct. He works a lot with Cameron Mackintosh - he has been the children’s director on Les Miserables - and when he leaves us he’ll be working in a European production of The Sound of Music.

“He’s so lovely to work with and he brings so much experience and energy. It has been fabulous and the young people in the cast love him.” Bet they’d even walk 500 miles if he asked them to.

* Sunshine on Leith plays three performances at Northern Stage, Newcastle on August 28 and 29. For more details and booking, visit www.northernstage.co.uk or call 0191 230 5151.


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