The Last Ship

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

It’s rather fitting The Last Ship should wind up its UK tour in Salford: sure, they never built ships there, but the Lowry now stands on a site that up until 1972 was a working port. However soon like so many British industries the Salford/Manchester docks closed with 3000 people losing their jobs. So, it seems rather fitting then that for one last time (well on this tour at least), The Last Ship sets sail.

The story revolves around the return of local boy Gideon Fletcher, (Richard Fleeshman) who 17 years prior fled the town and joined the navy: he could see the writing was on the wall even back then for the shipyard and wanted to avoid the seemingly inevitable indoctrination into that way of life. However, on his return he now finds his town in potential ruin from the proposed closure of the ship yard. To make matter worse he receives a frosty reception from his old-flame Meg Dawson, (Frances McNamee) the girl he left behind. These two may be the focal point, but this is story with a bigger tale to tell: one of community, hope and defiance.

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The Last Ship is Sting’s love letter to a town he grew up in and a life he had once known. It fully acknowledges the pride and struggle that the people of Tyneside and other communities faced at the closure of not just the docks but coalmines and pits as well. Songs like “The Last Ship” the “Shipyard” swell with pride with the latter being a foot stamping statement of intent.

The cast are on fine form, Richard Fleeshman makes for engaging, charismatic lead, who at times doesn’t half sound like Sting when singing. Joe McGann and Penelope White as shipyard foreman Jackie White and his wife Peggy, make for a heart-warming, strong couple, who have each other’s and the rest of the communities backs at all times. The show is packed full of spirited and strong performances throughout that certainly do the source material full credit.

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The production design by 59 Productions is outstanding: one minute you’re in a dockyard the next a church complete with stain glass windows and eerie echo. Above we have the claustrophobic grey clouds, and magnificent tower cranes: the visuals take this production to another level, never ‘showy’ or flash, just simply stunning.

Anyone expecting an all singing, all dancing musical affair complete with ‘jazz-hands’ need look elsewhere, for this is production filled heart, soul and an unashamed political agenda. It calls out Margret Thatcher and the government of the day for the pain and suffering they caused so many at that time. The production highlights the mistakes of the past a warning to make sure these mistakes aren’t repeated in the future, especially regarding the NHS: It certainly has some something to say, and it says it loud and unashamedly proud.

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At the close of the production the cast took a well-earned standing ovation and gave us one last song: joined by Sting for an unannounced, unassuming blink and you’ll miss it cameo for the Last Ships final week of shows, judging by this performance lets hope there are plenty more voyages to come!

The Last Ship is at the Lowry until 7th July tickets available here.

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