Billed as Sting’s personal, political and passionate musical, this was a ship that I wasn’t prepare to let sail by without an inquisitive look.
On a tour of UK and Ireland, The Last Ship sailed into the Quays last night, making its debut at The Lowry theatre.
I have already used two puns both based on the word ‘sail’ and we are but two sentences into this post. I do apologise.
Spoiler there’s a third towards the end.
Inspired by Sting’s childhood experiences and featuring his Tony-nominated original score and lyrics, the show is set against a backdrop of the demise of the shipbuilding industry in the North East, and hones in on the story of childhood sweethearts and their personal journeys together and as individuals.
Be reassured that there is no schmaltz on stage – the story isn’t tied up with a red ribbon, no eyes will be rolled (I’m an eye-roller – they stayed unrolled), and the issues laid bare of the workers’ struggles during this time, by no means romanticised.
Despite the image I’ve chosen to use below.
The cast is impressive and stellar, featuring Richard Fleeshman (Gideon Fletcher), Charlie Hardwick (Peggy White), Joe McGann (Jackie White) and Frances McNamee (Meg Dawson).
It should be noted that last night, Peggy White was played by Penelope Woodman who I have to say was, indeed, one of the stars of the show with her rousing vocals and passionate movements.
But how to separate one member from the others, really.
The Last Ship is an energetic, heartfelt, literal foot-stamping/air punching musical from start to finish.
At the start of each half, the cast even break through the 4th wall – especially after the interval.
I won’t say how and why, other than to say, don’t worry if you’re having a chat in your seat and suddenly look up to see the cast assembled on stage looking and waving at you. You won’t be thrown out for flagrant abuse of theatre etiquette.
Not a natural lover of musicals myself, I hope my words hold some weight (if never before or ever again), when I say that the songs were catchy, moving and engaging at first ‘hear’. There was a fine balance of word and song, any musical interlude feeling natural and instrumental (pardon the pun) to moving the narrative forward.
With Sting’s style literally written all over them, the songs and music took in sea-shanties, strings, acoustic guitar, piano and even electrica strains as the audience were also treated on brief occasion to Sting’s back catalogue. It’s no tall order to perform an established legend’s songs whilst said legend is in the building (yep, Sting was In.The.Building), but Richard Fleeshman owned every note and word.
Indeed, the music was equally matched by the rest of the vocals on stage, a mix of dialogue, song, impassioned shouts and humour (I particularly enjoyed the gritty and witty asides from Frances McNamee as Meg and Kevin Wathen (Davey Harrison)).
Equally breathtaking to the music and acting, was the set design.
With not a prop touched or moved, we were seamlessly taken from from ship yard, to a terraced house, to the local pub, to the docks, to a protest march to waves crashing; all with the clever use of screens, projections and sound and lighting effects.
With any piece of theatre which brings with it ‘political’ amongst its adjectives, there is a risk and a fear from the audience that they are about to encounter an angry rant and lecture (whichever way you lean). Fear no such thing.
And the Baroness in the royal blue suit is, I’m sure, based on nobody. Nobody at all.
This is an honest, non finger-wagging, moving yet entertaining piece of theatre which I enjoyed – and that was before Mr Sting appeared in all his unassuming glory (no scene-stealing, mic grabbing antics here) at curtain call.
Showing until Saturday 7 July, I urge you to give this show a go, and don’t let that ship sail. sorry.
Visit the The Lowry’s website for all details, including tickets.