Review: The Last Ship

Matt Corner as young Gideon, and Parisa Shahmir as young Meg in The Last Ship. Photographs: Pamela Raith
26 Jun 2018 @ 4.16 pm
| Entertainment

The curtain went up 30 minutes late on opening night due to technical glitches – and two understudies went on – but it still ended with a standing ovation.

The Last Ship, as the title suggests, is a nostalgic study of times gone by when trade unions clashed with Thatcher and manufacturing in this country lost its pride in production, becoming the assembling of parts.

The Last Ship
  • York Theatre Royal
  • Mon Jun 25-Sat Jun 30
  • £15-£32.50
  • More details

Yes, that is the main theme of the show, but thankfully there is so much more in the piece to be proud of. It manages to tell a story of resilience and dignity using some show-stopping numbers and some incredible visuals.

Since the underwhelming American tour the book has been re-written by the director Lorne Campbell – and the mixture of resounding anthems and thought provoking songs carries much of the piece.

Driving force

Charlie Hardwick & Joe McGann
Two stories interweave: one is the tale of the foreman Jackie White played by Joe McGann. He is the driving force of the narrative and supported by his wife Peggy, played brilliantly last night by Penelope Woodman.

They take the action forward. The last ship will be built, not scrapped and the pride of the community will survive.

The second romantic thread of the story involves the return of sailor Gideon Fletcher (Richard Fleeshman) to his former life and love played by France McNamee.

This holds the usual tropes but has the distinction of making the characters older and therefore life experienced.

Nevertheless from the rousing opening chorus to the love songs and simple philosophical observations, the musical score directed by Richard John and orchestrated by Bob Mayers does not fail to impress.

It is this which carries the plot and holds the emotion. Celtic in style with a folksy feel, there are several poignant and moving ballads.

Fleeshman sounds uncannily like Sting himself. Frances Mcnamee sings with an amazing range and texture, her style is totally original.

Remarkable set

Cast to sea
The set created by 59 Productions is also remarkable. The paraphernalia of the shipyard disappears to become the docks and is used to provide a backdrop to intimate scenes in the pub and a church.

Back projections are skilfully employed to depict skies which become a metaphor for the drama, and the lighting scheme is perfect. I loved the scope of it, taking in the claustrophobia of life in a small town but tantalisingly allowing us to glimpse the world outside.

The show is what a musical should be: nostalgic at the same time as not shying away from reality and historical consequences.

There are small vignettes: an educated worker played by Charlie Richmond, Jim Calfrey as the Marxist firebrand and other workers who are hard drinking and political.

The play ends with a speech by Kate, Meg’s daughter and the voice of hope for the future. We have a voice: we can save our NHS… This brought forth a cheer from the audience who were by then quite stirred!

Sting’s community

Sting in Newcastle. Photograph: Mark Savage Photography
The musical is Sting’s attempt to repay the Wallsend community from which he sprang and subsequently escaped, and much of the spirit and soul of Tyneside is vividly captured.

The Full Monty shows us ex-miners earning money by creating a strip show – more pragmatic but not so idealistic as here.

Sting showed us a dream but I couldn’t help wondering what did the unemployed ship builders do next?

What a pity that the resolution is fiction… a lovely idea but unfortunately, a dream.