Review: The Last Ship Nottingham Playhouse (touring)

Following a sell out and critically acclaimed UK premier and launch running 12 March – 7 April at Northern Stage in Newcastle we see Sting’s heartfelt and empowering musical The Last Ship dock at Nottingham Playhouse from Tuesday 8 – Saturday 12 April. Thereafter the show continues to tour six more venues (Cardiff, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, York and Salford) until early July 2018. Whilst being emotionally affecting generally, one would expect that the cities with histories of ship building will resonate most with the work. With the artistic tone of The Last Ship being about working class peoples and their struggles us Nottingham folk also devour the emotionally gripping tales wholesale and rise as one in acclamation to applaud Sting’s powerful musical. Our hearts and souls celebrate its theatrical and very community based storytelling wholeheartedly.

Moreover, The Last Ship is directed with guts and sensitivity by Lorne Campbell and Sting’s music and lyrics shine through like the beams of golden sunlight on a metallic storm clouded day with rough seas crashing on the shore. As Sting poetically proclaims “It’s a strange kind of beauty, it’s cold and austere, and whatever it was that you’ve done to be here, it’s the sum of your hopes, your desires and your tears when the Last Ship sails.” Whilst the entire cast are universally brilliant much of the theatrical honours also belong to the set building and projection design by 59 productions. The show is inspired by Sting’s 1991 album The Soul Cages and his own childhood experiences. It tells the story of a tough community amid the demise of the shipbuilding industry in Wallsend Tyne & Wear, with the closure of the town’s Swan Hunter shipyard. It is an epic and proud account of a family, their community and a great act of defiance.

The Tony nominated score includes best loved and soul stirring songs, ‘Island of Souls’, ‘All This Time’ and ‘When We Dance’. In Gideon’s poignant song ‘The Night Where The Pugilist Learned How To Dance’ we share the opposite human parallels of a tough life and those of a more gentle and positive outlook simultaneously expressed through dancing with his new/old love, going from “… I was quick with me fists and fast with me footwork, as you can plainly see… to the night when the pugilist finally learned how to dance.” Such ‘sweat of the brow’ journeys are at the epicentre of this historically relevant piece of musical theatre where gigantic events force change and retrospect for better or for worse and the community take matters into their own hands.

Touring cast members Richard Fleeshman (Gideon Fletcher), Charlie Hardwick (Peggy White), Joe McGann (Jackie White), and Frances McNamee (Meg Dawson) form the principal cast members of The Last Ship. They are as strong and dramatically engaging a cast as one could hope for and each one broadcasting Northern and universal sentiments in their voices and souls throughout. Shy bairns they are not – pet. Charlie Hardwick’s rendition of ‘Sail Away’ with Jackie White (Joe McGann) is sorrowful and tender. The often unsaid love between them is palpable. Frances McNamee as Meg probably has the most emotional and bluntly poetic song of them all with the unfulfilled relationship and regretful ‘If You Ever See me Talking To A Sailor.’ Matt Corner plays Young Gideon and Parissa Sharmir is Young Meg of whose future hopes and dreams upon which this romantic musical pins itself. All the cast offer up everything and are all of fine voice. The attention to detail in each individual character is sharply drawn and makes for a community we care about.

 

The Last Ship shares a similar working class background with future hopes attached to the popular musical The Hired Man with the First World War and the hard graft and dangers of the mining world. The piece has a strong relation to folk music and echoes the unrelenting expectations of previous generations, more hard graft and the demise of the ship building industry. The result is a total theatrical triumph! We urge you to go and see it before the Last Ship Sails.

Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Phil Lowe.

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