Before we begin to start The Last Ship review, I’ll admit I really didn’t think I was much of stage musical fan. Or a big Sting fan for that matter. But somehow I ended up laughing and blubbing my way through The Last Ship Musical, at the Northern Stage on Friday night. Something about the poignant lyrics, dramatic staging, historical sentiment and folk music turned me into a reet snotty mess. Alan was wondering what had happened to his heart of stone wife. Was there a secret musical fan lurking about to be unleashed after 35 years of suppression? What had Mr. Gordon Sumner done to me?
The Last Ship Musical Back Story.
The Last Ship’s journey to the Northern Stage has not been without its challenges. Sting began working on the musical back in 2011 taking inspiration from his 1991 album, The Soul Cages. This album detailed his own childhood experiences of growing up next to the Wallsend shipyards.
The musical took to the stage in Broadway for a ‘limited’ run in 2014. Then on to a show at the Sage, Gateshead in 2017. Here Sting met with producers Karl Sydow, Katherine Schenker and the team at Northern Stage. It was then announced that The Last Ship Musical would launch at the Northern Stage in March 2018 before a UK tour.
Initially, Auf Wiedersehen Pet and Spender legend Mr. Jimmy Nail were cast as Jackie White (a part he played on Broadway) but he was later replaced by scouser Paul McGann. Not sure what Jimmy had on that took him away from The Last Ship? An offer from the Northern Stage to refund anyone who had bought tickets just to see Mr. Nail was put out through local media. But as the two week run of The Last Ship has completely sold out I don’t think many have taken it up.
The Last Ship Review
Taking our seats in Row C practically on the cast’s laps, we were blown away by the fantastic staging. A huge projected backdrop of a moody sky set off a giant metal structure. Alan couldn’t work out if the backdrop were wooden slats or a projection?
Already we were intrigued and excited about what was to come. Instead of the usual curtain up, the cast all just sauntered on, mingling with the audience and each other in character. The suddenly the orchestra piped up. The show was about to start. As it did the stage came to life transforming to a pub, church, and shipyard with seamless screen drops, projection, and very clever lighting.
The Last Ship Narrative
The story follows the life of Gideon Fletcher (Richard Fleeshman), a son of a shipyard worker who doesn’t want to step into his father’s shoes in the yards and dreams of a life at sea. Gid promises his girlfriend Meg (Frances McNamee) that he’ll soon return but 17 years pass by which seems like a long time to me without any shore leave. In the land of musicals, poetic licenses have to be taken!
When Gideon returns he finds Wallsend to be a very different place in the midst of picket lines, strikes, takeovers and impending unemployment. Oh, and he has a 16-year-old daughter. #Shocker as the kids would say! As Meg sings “If you ever see me talking to a sailor” you believe she has been burned and is happy running her own business without the need for a ‘fella’. The daughter Ellen has a desire to move to London to be in a band, just like Sting did himself. Where did he get these ideas from?
Away from the Gid/Meg love story, there is another narrative in the form of the men who work at the yards and their foreman Jackie White (Paul McGann) and his wife Peggy (Charlie Hardwick). Each and every member of the 16 strong cast put in an amazing performance and we really believed their individual stories.
We loved seeing Charlie Richmond our favourite Tyne Theatre panto funny man as a shipyard worker, who quotes the Odyssey and Shakespeare! Not sure how many of these guys were actually in the yard, but again you can be off the wall in a musical. Richmond looked so different with a comb-over and he delivered so many funny lines in the songs. We also spotted Michael Blair who was Tweedle Dee in Alice and Wonderland last Christmas and the Earthworm in James and the Giant Peach the year before. It was great that so much of the cast were local with strong links to the Northern Stage.
I won’t spoil the ending, but the performances were extremely touching especially from Jackie and Peggy. Every time ‘The Last Ship’ song came on I had that annoying lump in my throat again.
The Last Ship and Sting
With this new version of The Last Ship, Sting has popped a couple of his classic solo songs into the mix. ‘When we danced’ and ‘All This Time’ interweave seamlessly with the folk-tinged more traditional songs. The musical was fast paced and didn’t lag like some other musicals I’ve seen over the years. There was always someone to watch, a great song or a fantastic piece of acting keeping the flow and to entertain.
The show closed to a standing ovation from the sold-out Northern Stage audience with a surprise international rock star guest as Sting joined the “curtain call”! The Last Ship you blew me away. If you have tickets you are in for a treat. If you missed out try to catch The Last Ship on the nationwide tour. You won’t regret it!