Writer: Lorne Campbell
Music and Lyrics: Sting
Director: Lorne Campbell
Reviewer: Sue Collier
Sting’s musical The Last Ship is his personal account of the decline of the North East of England Shipping Industry. It depicts the long-term community effect of the 1970s Conservative party’s industrial strategies. The show first premiered in Chicago in 2014, earned two Tony Award Nominations but had only a brief run on Broadway. It was a difficult show to premiere in America and has been reworked for the current UK tour.
Gideon Fletcher refuses the family tradition of shipbuilding and instead goes to Sea, leaving behind his childhood sweetheart Meg Dawson. When seventeen years later Gideon returns with hopes of rekindling his romance with Meg, he is not welcomed with open arms and is shocked to find that he is the father of her 16-year-old daughter Ellen. Much has changed at the shipyard. There is no buyer for the ship that has just been built, and it is to be sold for scrap before its’ maiden voyage. The Government want to buy cheaper ships from overseas. There are threats of redundancies, wage cuts and yard closures. Foreman Jackie White forms a plan to complete the construction of one last ship (The Utopia) which the workforce will launch themselves as a symbol of the immense pride they have for their industrial heritage.
The Last Ship successfully delivers the concept of the decimation of British industry in the 1980s via a clear political stance of anti-Thatcherism. There are current references to the Battle of Orgreave and the attempt to break down the NHS. Like the Yorkshire Coal Mining industry, the Tyneside community has only Shipbuilding to sustain it. We witness the effects of industrial action, the tearing apart of communities and the vitally sustaining role of the women who support their hard-working men.
Sting’s rousing musical score incorporates rhythmic stomping to represent hammering. A wide combination of musical styles is offered and there is a folky feel at times with jigs, clog dancing and tin whistle playing. Each character is likeably introduced during The Shipyard. There are quality duets but unfortunately, at times the volume of the singing resulted in the lyrics appearing muffled.
A seemingly simple set of steel girders and ladders with moving and still projections offer endless possibilities for scene changes such as the dramatic rough sea, the red skyline glow of the steelworks and the striking sense of the growing ship looming over the audience as it nears completion.
A strong cast offering amusing performances give a crowd-pleasing involvement from the start. Richard Fleeshman as Gideon has an expressive singing voice and delivers a good romantic lead. His growing relationship with his newly found daughter Ellen is believably awkward. Although at times the inconsistency of his accent can be somewhat distracting. Frances McNamee has an immensely powerful voice and gives a commendable performance in the role of the staunchly proud Meg Dawson.
Joe McGann offers warm storytelling as the likeable foreman Jackie White. His relationship with his wife Peggy (played by the immensely likeable Charlie Hardwick) is tender and loving. Hardwick has a surprisingly strong singing voice and her duetting is superb.
Katie Moore incorporates the role of Narrator with the likeable Ellen by offering a young person’s perspective of life in a town which has nothing to offer once the main industry declines.
The audience’s warm and appreciative response to the show resulted in a full house standing ovation on the night of this review.
Runs until 5 May 2018 | Image: Contributed