The Last Ship, York (Originally reviewed for The Reviews Hub, June 2018)
Originally Reviewed for The Reviews Hub and the link can be found here.
Sting’s The Last Ship has been touring since March with York Theatre’s Royal marking the penultimate stop on this successful tour. Due to technical issues on the night of this review, the musical started half an hour later. With the complex hi-tech and intricate staging evident in this production, the late start must have been needed to ensure that “everything will be right on the night”.
The Last Ship is about a tight-knit community in Wallsend, a town in Tyne and Wear, and the pending closure of the Swan Hunter shipyard. The shipyard workers fight to save their livelihood, before deciding to build one last ship, and for it to be launched and sail away. The story explores some of the key characters, including Gideon Fletcher (Richard Fleeshman), a sailor who leaves town only to return 17 years later and Jackie White (Joe McGann) the foreman of the shipyard, who leads the fight to ensure “the last ship” sails, supported by his wife, Peggy (Penelope Woodman).
The length of this production, three hours, may be somewhat off-putting for some viewers but this could be vetoed as necessary to reflect the spirit of Sting’s music and the deep melancholy and reflective messages brought from the songs. The beautiful music and lyrics from his award-winning album, The Soul Cages, inspires this musical and is intertwined with singer’s own childhood experiences. This production plays out at a steady pace, incorporating the characters’ narratives well; it is the people who make the shipyard, and the shipyard that makes the people who they are.
59 Productions’ staging with the assistance of Matt Daw (lighting) and Sebastian Frost (sound) is exceptional, making great use of hi-tech features for the shipyard especially, while transitions between sets are smooth.
The Last Ship is politically and socially charged, with themes that are no doubt familiar to many in the audience. One is reminded of the continuous demise of the coal industry in the 20th Century, leading to the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike in response to the then Conservative Government’s so-called “name of progress” economic policy. The production also follows personal stories, particularly the estranged relationship between Joe and Meg (Frances McNamee) and their bridge being built in the beautiful When We Dance.
Under the direction of Lorne Campbell, the cast and creatives put on an excellent performance in telling such a poignant and moving story. Like a lot of industrial dependent towns, Wallsend’s Swan Hunter shipyard represents the community and people’s livelihood. It represents just how important it is to fight for what you believe, with heart, soul and spirit.
Shipbuilding has more or less declined in the UK, but its proud community roots, legacy and industrial heritage vividly live on in many hearts. This may be one of the reasons Sting wanted to tell this story; to repay his “debt” to the community he grew up in, before leaving the town to pursue his dream as a successful musician.