Richard Fleeshman talks to Frankly My Dear UK about taking on the lead role of Gideon Fletcher in Sting’s new musical THE LAST SHIP
It’s fair to say that Richard Fleeshman has acting in his blood. The son of former BROOKSIDE and CORONATION STREET actress Sue Jenkins and actor/director David Fleeshman has been acting since the age of 12 when he played the role of Craig Harris in CORONATION STREET for four years.
Since then, his career has grown from strength to strength with roles both on TV as well as on stage, most recently as Sam Wheat in the West End production of GHOST THE MUSICAL, as well as Sky Masterson in GUYS AND DOLLS (UK Tour) and Bobby Strong in URINETOWN (original West End production).
Fleeshman’s latest role sees him take to the stage to perform in Sting’s new musical THE LAST SHIP. Inspired by Sting’s 1991 album THE SOUL CAGES and his own childhood experiences, THE LAST SHIP tells the story of a community amid the demise of the shipbuilding industry in Tyne and Wear. Fleeshman plays the lead role of Gideon Fletcher, a sailor named who returns home after 17 years at sea as tensions between past and future flare in both his family and his town.
“It’s based in Wallsend where Sting obviously grew up” explains Fleeshman in an exclusive interview with Donna Kelly of Frankly My Dear UK. “It’s a real place but we depict a fictional story.”
“It’s based in the Swan Hunter shipyard, which was a real working yard. I play Gideon Fletcher whose Dad was a yard worker. He was expected to follow suit and go into the yard but he decides it’s not the life for him – a little bit like Sting did – and he runs away to sea and joins the Navy. The start of the play finds him grown up, 17 years later, when he comes back to face the world he left behind.”
“He [Gideon] has a lot of faults which is always quite good when you have a character like that because you need to emphasise with him. On the face of it, he’s not really been great. He promised this girl he’d come back, he left, he heard his dad died and he didn’t come back. There is a lot not to like about him. The journey to try and make him, by the end, do the right thing for the right reasons, is a nice journey to go on. That’s what I like about him.”
Despite his extensive background in musical theatre, Fleeshman admits he was incredibly nervous when he first auditioned for the part, particularly when he found out Sting was going to be in the room.
“I’ve been a huge fan for years so I was incredibly nervous at the audition to roll up and there is Sting sat in the corner” admits Fleeshman.
“Having to sing Sting songs to Sting, it’s just amazing. Just to work with anyone you admire is a real treat but when they happen to be as humble and gracious as he is as well is remarkable”.
Clearly, Sting’s influence has rubbed off on the 28-year-old actor. Alongside with nailing the notoriously difficult Geordie accent, Fleeshman also sounds remarkably like the world-renowned singer/songwriter in his musical numbers, most notably the 2001 hit WHEN WE DANCE.
“I’ll take that” laughs Fleeshman. “I think he’s brilliant”
“My girlfriend bought me, for my Christmas present last year, tickets to see Sting before I ever knew this [THE LAST SHIP] was coming, that’s how big a fan I was of his music. I’ve grown up listening to him my whole life so that influence is one thing. Also, I play the most Sting-type character in the show, singing songs written by Sting in a Georgie accent, so it just leans that way.
“When I found out about the audition, I went and researched it and the first thing I saw was him at the Public Theatre doing a solo concert, doing all the songs. That’s what I took on board. That’s how he intends it to sound so you take the phrasing, timing and all those kind of things on board, so I think it’s all of that bundled together.”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the musical, however. Like Gideon, THE LAST SHIP has had a bit of a rocky journey before returning home. Originally making its premiere in Chicago in 2014, the musical was forced to close after just three months on Broadway, despite being nominated for two Tony Awards for Best Original Score and Best Orchestrations. Thankfully, this didn’t deter Sting from bringing the musical back to the UK. Armed with a new book by its director Lorne Campbell, as well as a few new songs, THE LAST SHIP has been substantially overhauled since its run on Broadway, with the focus much more on the political aspects of the story, rather than the romance.
“It’s a story about people” explains Fleeshman “People being oppressed and people reacting to that. I think now is as good a time as any to show that it’s important.”
“What has been the resounding thing has been how much its affected people. It’s not just a normal trip to the theatre where people think “ah, that’s nice”. People have been really moved. We’ve had standing ovations every show.”
“The difference with this show is that its two-way traffic. You feed off what you’re getting from the audience and it’s so powerful. In Newcastle, when it was so close to home, you could see rows and rows of grown men in floods of tears and you can’t help but be moved by that. That then recharges you to think that what you’re doing is really important.”
Despite being set in the 1980s, Fleeshman also believes many of themes in THE LAST SHIP will resonate with modern audiences.
“It’s so important for people to get together. You look at the power of what people can do and the power of people combining together to have their voices heard and there is a small ray of hope. Take the Parkland movement, which is unlike anything that has happened before. These kids, I know Congress is ignoring them, but one day they are going to grow into adults that can vote and it’s not going to be that long, to be honest. That’s when we could see some real change. It’s a very, very powerful message and it’s a pleasure to be a part of it.”
THE LAST SHIP tours nationally until 7 July 2018.
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.