Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Last Ship -Review- Northern Stage

The Last Ship
Northern Stage
Wednesday 21st March 2018 7pm

Music and Lyrics by Sting
Directed by Lorne Campbell
Designed by Fifty Nine Productions

Apart from a select few, musicals have never been my first choice for theatre so it was with both hesitation along with an open mind for my opinion to be changed that I went along to see The Last Ship, and changed it definitely did.

When settling into my seat before the show started, the sound of seagulls could be heard (a familiar noise with my coming from a seaside town) and an impressive industrial stage setting of a shipbuilders yard set the scene. Members of the cast arrived on stage and danced to the background music that started. As they looked into the audience the local actors spotted and started pointing and waving to (I assumed) family members and friends and this made for a warm and friendly atmosphere.

The Last Ship was inspired initially by Stings 1991 album The Soul Cages and is a personal political and passionate musical telling of family community and ultimately a great act of defiance as the last ship sails.

It tells of life on a Tyneside shipyard where the workers include foreman Jackie White (played by Joe McGann) and his strong and loving wife Peggy (played brilliantly by Charlie Hardwick) The workers are then told that the shipyard is no longer financially viable. That all they've ever known will have to change. Joe McGann plays this role perfectly as a hard but fair man whilst struggling with his own (and for the main) undisclosed problems.We see the workers fight, strike and plan an act of defiance as these proud people (who just want to work) deal with day to day living and tragedy- always with a great sense of hope and resilience.

There is also humour throughout, including asides to the audience and a song led by Mrs Dees (played by Annie Grace) about how she'd been looking for a cuddly man but instead could only find yard workers.
The scene where Baroness Tynedale (played by Penelope Woodman) is attending the yard workers meeting explaining there was nothing that could be done and consequences of strike action was very reminiscent of an 80s female prime minister and the portrayal led to laughter from the audience

Alongside this is the story of a young man (Gideon Fletcher) who doesn't want to continue in his father's footsteps as a yard worker. He chooses to leave the area to become a sailor instead. He left his childhood sweetheart Meg (played by Frances McNamee) with the promise to return but never did, until 17 years have passed. He returns just before the shipyard strike and this is when he learns of ALL that he left behind. As Gideon tries to make amends for leaving Meg and she tells him what happened since his departure, this leads to some beautiful scenes of determination strength and love.

The sets included inside a pub, houses,  streets, as well as the shipyards and were done impressively through projection images, backdrop, lighting as well as the huge metal walkway with metal stairs going up either side. The costumes were well chosen reflecting the style of the 80’s.

I enjoyed that musically there was a live band playing to the side of the stage for this production. The whole cast were very good vocally. Notably for me was when Richard Fleeshman (who plays the older Gideon Fletcher) sang When We Dance (one of Stings previously released singles) Other songs in the show that were previously released included All This Time and Island Of Souls.

The acting by the whole cast was of a very high standard and was superb throughout. The stage was used to great effect and always lots happening, a visual delight and the choreography flawless. The Geordie accents from non Geordies were great and didn't have me thinking what on earth accent is that supposed to be as is sometimes the case. The show was never condescending either which can sometimes happen when dealing with things relating to the North East.
The director states that it is not a musical about the past, it is what we might be and maybe are and this comes across well in the storytelling

As the show finished to a standing ovation Sting joined the cast onstage to take a bow during the second encore and the emotion of it all was felt throughout the theatre. Afterwards a girl turned to me and said how she was needing to reapply all her eye make up and I overheard a conversation from two others saying that they must take their fathers to see this- their fathers who are two retired shipbuilders

The Last Ship continues its 4 week run at Northern Stage until 7th April before embarking on a tour of the UK and Ireland

Belinda Bekki-Winter

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