Karin Johnstone gives her reaction to Sting’s musical The Last Ship…
The Last Ship, Sting’s musical, has arrived at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate. The musical is inspired by Sting’s experiences from his northern childhood and the shipbuilding industry that shaped his community.
The story is based around the closure of the Swan Hunter shipyard in Tyne and Wear. It follows the battle of the workers in defiance against the Thatcherite government.
The moment you walk in to the Derngate you are transported to this stark industrial world. A massive steel framework of the ship.
Thick heavy chains strewn on the floor. Ominous grey clouds which fade to reveal the chimney tops of terraced houses. The set projections are breath-taking, transporting us to grimy terraced streets, or peeping inside pubs and inside homes.
Folk music diddley-eyes softly, as the players meander on to the stage.
‘Did ya get your seat nice an’ early did ya?’ enquires one of the actors, in Geordie tones, to an audience member. The music swells, the stage fills with the actors dancing and stomping and they instantly manage to get the audience clapping along.
Amongst the political rhetoric is a wee love story. Gideon who had grown up in the area but left as a young man returns seventeen years later to find his disgruntled childhood sweetheart. He has to win her back.
We are also involved with the more touching loyal relationship of the foreman, Jackie White, played by solid Joe McGann and his wife Peggy, witnessing them support their community all the way. Peggy, played by Charlie Hardwick gives an uplifting performance and carries some great songs.
Meg, the grown-up teen love interest, played by Frances McNamee is captivating with her pure voice and feisty portrayal of a single parent.
The power of this show are the accomplished choral arrangements and it features some haunting songs – some of them taken from Sting’s album Soul Cages. Prodigal Gideon, played by Richard Fleeshman gives a beautiful rendition of The night the pugilist learned how to dance.
Fleeshman, Sting’s alter ego, spookily has the weird twang and tone of Sting. Behind me a man asks his partner, ‘What do you think is bringing people to the show? Is it the Sting connection?’
‘Well it could be the Sting connection’, she says, ‘but I think it’s because it’s not an American import.’
It’s no surprise that the show bombed on Broadway because it is steeped in English working-class values but other than this does not have powerful universal themes.
The narrator keeps telling the audience we’re beautiful, that is the workers, that are the salt of the earth. If you want to remind yourself of the grim reality of the Thatcher era, feel the power of uniting Unions or just be entertained by some grand choral singing then see The Last Ship.
The show is running until Saturday 28th April you can buy tickets here.