The Last Ship, with a Tony-nominated original score and lyrics by Sting, has sailed into Northampton’s Royal & Derngate as part of a major UK and Ireland tour. The musical which is being revived on its native soil after an unsuccessful short run on Broadway, explores the musicians feelings about the north-east, where he grew up. What a great loss to New York and a huge boost for British theatregoers! It is one of the best constructed musicals I have seen in years.
Why the show was ever premiered the other side of the Atlantic in the first instance, is rather puzzling to me, because it is very much a British musical that champions North East life and the complications of the British social and political scene.
`I wanted to give the community where I was born a voice, to tell a narrative in this form, because it is a story that has not been told. In a way it`s a kind of debt that I feel I owe, an emotional debt. I abandoned my town, I didn`t want to work there, I didn`t want to be part of it, so now at my age I want to go back and say thank you for what you gave me’
It tells the story of the declining shipbuilding industry on Tyneside with the closure of the Swan Hunter shipyard and the inevitable loss of jobs and effect on the community and its people. The ship Utopia, is almost complete but the workers are faced with trade minister Baroness Tynedale (Baroness Thatcher?) proposing to break up the ship for scrap. The developing political story is interwoven with the story of Gideon Fletcher and Meg Dawson, the school sweetheart he left broken-hearted.
When sailor Gideon returns home from sea, he discovers the ship-building industry he left behind is in freefall and and that he has a seventeen year old daughter called Ellen! The local shipyard is closing and no-one is sure what is going to become of their jobs. Foreman Jackie White and his wife Peggy decide to fight tooth & nail’ to hold their community together in the face of increasing uncertainty, after all `we got nowt else`!
Meg is a strong character who enjoys her freedom and tells the audience in a song that “a sailor is not a man to be trusted”. Frances McNamee, who plays Meg brilliantly both in song and performance, is a star within a shining cast. There are also convincing performances from Richard Fleeshman as Gideon. Joe McGann, the foreman Jackie White and Charlie Hardwick as his wife Peggy White.
It has been something of a bumpy journey for the musical after the short lived Broadway run and the departure of local Geordie hero Jimmy Nail, who appeared in the New York show. It relies on the audience understanding the references to Orgreave and Thatcherism to succeed.
Many of the songs are original, which includes a number of foot-stamping anthems and more thoughtful ditties but some of the singers best known songs such as Island of Souls, All This Time and When We Dance, also get an airing. The musical demonstrates Stings `World Music’ qualifications, successfully straying between Irish folk songs to strains of an Argentinian tango and features several rousing chorus tunes.
The shipyard set by award-winning 59 Productions is simply amazing! The surprisingly versatile shipyard set is transformed within seconds by an impressive range of projected images and shadows. The set is transformed from sitting rooms, to the interior of a cathedral, to the skeleton of the great ship Utopia itself. The wonderful set helps propel the production along. Simply Stunning!
This heartfelt and inspiring new musical shows the collective strength and defiance of a community facing the death of their industry against a backdrop of an emotional story surrounding a pair of childhood sweethearts and the fine people they grew up to become.
The show is a stunning fist pumping act of defiance; a proud call to community and solidarity, to the value and nobility of working class lives. The conclusion has also been made more relevant, with a plea for sexual equality and the defence of the NHS, bringing it right up to date. There are shades of Billy Elliot, with strong overtones of family, politics and community. The company received a standing ovation for their performance, clearly a triumphant success.
The Last Ship is both heart-breaking and inspiring. It is a call to arms in these times of austerity and political indifference. It is a topical reminder of the power of people who may have nothing, but they have each other, they have family and community, which can be overwhelming and sometimes unstoppable!
Do not miss it! A wonderful musical which will leave you stamping your feet on the ground and pumping your fists in the air!
Although this tale is about the men, the shipbuilders and their plight, it is the women who carry the message, both musically and dramatically throughout!
Playing the part of Jackie White, Joe McGann is perhaps best known as Charlie Burrows in the comedy series The Upper Hand, with stage roles including Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls. Emmerdale star Charlie Hardwick takes the role Peggy White. Playing Gideon Fletcher, Richard Fleeshman’s stage roles include Sam Wheat in Ghost the Musical (West End and Broadway).
The Last Ship is produced by Northern Stage in association with producers Karl Sydow and Kathryn Schenker.
“It’s very demanding, very exacting, but I’ve had more fun doing this than almost anything else I’ve done in my life”
Sting Music & Lyrics
https://www.thelastshipmusical.co.uk/gallery Twitter: @LastShipOnStage
The Last Ship is docked in Royal & Derngate from Wednesday 25 to Saturday 27 April. Tickets – priced from £12 to £50* – can be booked by calling Box Office on 01604 624811 or online at www.royalandderngate.co.uk.
CREDIT: PHOTOGRAPHS; Pamela Raith