Poignant, powerful and empowering, THE LAST SHIP is a moving and heartfelt story of community, hope and collective defiance
In many ways, it was a brave decision by Sting to bring his musical THE LAST SHIP home to the UK. Despite being nominated for two Tony Awards for Best Original Score and Best Orchestrations, the musical was forced to close after just three months on Broadway. Thankfully that didn’t deter the award-winning singer/songwriter from giving up. Armed with a new book by its director Lorne Campbell, as well as a few new songs from Sting himself, THE LAST SHIP finally sets out on its UK tour, docking at Liverpool’s Playhouse Theatre for a week-long run.
Inspired by Sting’s 1991 album THE SOUL CAGES and his own childhood experiences, THE LAST SHIP tells the story of a community under threat. Returning home after 17 years at sea, Gideon Fletcher arrives back in his hometown of Wallsend as the local shipyard is closing. Having almost completed work on the ship Utopia, the shipyard workers are told by the trade minister Baroness Tynedale (a not-so-subtle caricature of Margaret Thatcher) that the ship is too expensive and must be broken up for scrap. Running alongside the political story is also one of romance as Gideon attempts to win back his childhood sweetheart Meg Dawson, the young and heartbroken girlfriend he left behind all those years ago.
Poignant, powerful and empowering, THE LAST SHIP is a moving and heartfelt story of community, hope and collective defiance. Focusing on the politics, rather than the romance, Sting and Director Lorne Campbell have made some significant changes to the story since its run on Broadway. The salt-of-the-earth priest has disappeared, along with Meg’s fiancé Arthur Millburn whom Gideon seeks to displace. The ending has also been brought up to date, with Campbell cleverly comparing the struggles of the past to the struggles of today, as communities come together to fight for issues like gun reform, equal pay and the preservation of the NHS.
In terms of set, the show is wonderfully enhanced by an exceptionally handsome stage design by 59 Productions. With its rusting girders, large gantries and iron staircases, the entire stage is transformed into a working shipyard, as video projections are used to effectively to give us everything from a television news reports to the interior of a cathedral with its stained glass windows.
The music, of course, is equally remarkable with Sting’s songs covering a huge range of genres from rousing rock anthems to yearning lyrical songs. The chorus numbers, in particular, stand out for their sheer strength and staging, allowing the powerful emotions to seep through. More importantly, they carry the narrative – and the audience – along in a compelling and moving way.
Joe McGann and Charlie Hardwick shine as the wonderful as the matter-of-fact Whites, both delivering their musical numbers with power and passion. Frances McNamee steals the show as the beautiful Meg Dawson, delivering a performance full of heart and truth. Despite his dastardly deeds, Richard Fleeshman’s Gideon also makes for a plausible hero in the end, even if his vocals sound disconcertingly like Sting himself.
At three hours long (including interval), this is a lengthy piece which could benefit from a little trimming here and there, with a couple of songs seeming to exist purely for entertainment value rather than adding anything to the narrative. It’s also not really clear what skilled but alcoholic worker Davey Harrison’s role is in the whole story. He’s clearly is a major character and Kevin Wathen’s performance is commendable, but his contribution to the plot is largely incoherent and could benefit from a little more development.
That said, this is a deeply personal, political and passionate piece and it’s hard not to be moved by the emotive final scene which has the audience surging to their feet. It looks like Sting’s ship has finally come in with this production.
THE LAST SHIP runs at Liverpool Playhouse until 14 April and 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.