Having started his career at age 12 on the cobbles of Coronation Street, Richard Fleeshman has gone from strength to strength, moving into musical theatre and quickly establishing himself as one of the most in demand actors in the country.
Fleeshman’s latest role which brings him to the Lowry in July sees him perform in Sting’s self-penned musical, The Last Ship. Inspired by Sting’s own childhood as well as his 1991 album The Soul Cages, The Last Ship focuses on a community amidst the dying days of the shipbuilding industry in Tyne and Wear. Fleeshman takes on the role of Gideon, a sailor by trade who returns home 17 years after turning his back on his hometown to become a sailor. He returns to reconnect with a lost love, however tensions soon rise as the once proud town he left is in demise and life for the girl he loved has changed dramatically.
“It’s based in what was a real working shipyard, the Swan Hunter shipyard.” Richard Fleesham explains. “I play Gideon Fletcher who was expected to follow in his Father’s footsteps and go working in the yard but he decides that life is not for him, I suppose similar to Sting really, so he joins the navy and heads off to sea, returning 17 years later when he returns to find the place he left behind is very different to the one he has returned to.”
The Last Ship originally made its premiere in Chicago in 2014 ahead of opening on Broadway where it was nominated for two Tony Awards for Best Original Score and Best Orchestrations. Since Sting brought the show to the UK it’s had a new book from director Lorne Campbell as well as the addition of new songs. The focus too has shifted to concentrate much more on the political aspects of the story. “Audience responses have been amazing, I was confident that audiences would enjoy the show as the story is fantastic and the music is beautiful but it’s been lovely to see just how much it’s resonated with audiences. At its heart it’s a story about people, about people being repressed and how they respond to that. As a company we get a real rush of energy from the audience, it’s a very powerful story and it’s clearly affecting people and moving audiences which is fantastic to see from up on stage, we’ve had standing ovations every night so far which is just incredible.”
Fleeshman having starred in both the West End and Broadway productions of Ghost, the Musical, came close to taking a break from musical theatre before hearing about the opportunity to audition for the role, “I’d actually decided before taking this role that I needed a break from eight shows a week and then literally an hour after having that conversation with my agent she called me back and said ‘Look I know what you said about having a break from musical theatre but….Sting…’ as soon as I heard that I said, scrap everything I said!”
Fleeshman was incredibly nervous when he first auditioned for the role knowing Sting was going to be present but has nothing but praise for the award-winning musician. “It’s been so fantastic working with Sting, he is one of the most humble, gracious guys you could wish to meet then you add onto that his unbelievable talent and passion for this project, it really is unbelievable.”
While Fleeshman may not relate to events that have happened in Gideon’s life he certainly relates to the draw of family and a love for his hometown, “In terms of his pride at the end of the show in the town that made him I can fully relate to that, I still go back to Manchester every month, my family are there, my best friends are there, I feel proud of Manchester every single day.”
With Fleeshman deciding he needed a break from musical theatre we wondered what it was that was so special about The Last Ship which made him change his mind, “One of the things that drew me to this show was that it’s a play that has incredible music rather than a musical, there are long periods of time, sometimes 7-8 minute scenes with just dialogue, there’s no underscore, nothing just dialogue so from an acting point of view you get the best of both worlds. The freedom you’re granted when doing a straight play mixed in with the joy of having a full band and full ensemble singing, that’s one of the things I love the most about it.”
As the Last Ship is due to dock at The Lowry in July we asked what audiences can expect from the large scale production. “At its heart it’s a brilliant, gritty story about people, about pride and about resilience. Audience responses have been amazing, I was confident that audiences would enjoy the show as the story is fantastic and the music is beautiful but it’s been incredible to see just how much the audiences have related to and enjoyed the show, I absolutely can’t wait to bring the show to the Lowry, it will be really special.
The Last Ship opens at The Lowry on Tuesday 3rd July and runs until Saturday 7th July tickets available here.