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The Last Ship 

Wales Millennium Centre
Monday 14th May 2018

Another musical about the working class struggles of the past may now be overkill, yet The Last Ship sails into the WMC this week, making for stimulating conversation.

The Last Ship has a good buzz (I’ll keep puns to a minimum) thanks to Sting, who has written the music and lyrics to this show. It’s a love letter to Newcastle and the surrounding area, showcasing the bleak shipyards, where a countless number of ships were created over many years. Yet in the 1980’s the scourge of closures of many workforces resulted in many a job lost due to political change and ignorant business decisions. 

Yet, for the shipbuilders who just completed Utopia, they are in for a nasty shock. After the completion of this ship, they are told there is no one to buy it and that jobs would need to be severed. In their fury, the builders strike and formulate their own plan to try and make use of Utopia. Though what can be done?

The appeal of having songs by Sting is a huge attraction to the show. Sadly, they are so similar in style that you crave more range and scope. These folk like salt of the earth songs easily lose their charm after more and more appearances. There is a rugged wit (some lyrics left wanting) to it all, though we have seen these themes better used in Billy Elliot – The Musical and even Blood Brothers. Sting has also left a strange type of nepotism, as all the male leads must emulate his raspy, unique vocal style. He gets away with this, though it did make you crave the source material.

The production itself is one of the defining elements of the show. 59 Productions have formulated the grandest of sets, with brilliant use of screens, scaffolding and lights. It’s a bleak affair, for the most part, grey and silver predominated in its livery. The screen helps to create huge visions of space of churches, the ocean sprayed shipyard and onboard the Utopia itself. The sense of depth is incredible and the Donald Gordon stage look more than double the space thanks to these optical illusions. 

A brilliant cast brings what they can to the half-baked personal lives of these characters. We might not really care about the girl who never met her father or the elder dock worker is dying, but there is some empathy for their fight. Gideon is here played by the strapping Richard Fleeshman, a strong leading role, with nice vocals if a somewhat less fascinating character than others. Charlie Hardwick (who grew up where the show is set) is a feisty Peggy, with dogged support for the men on strike, with some funny moments and heart ache when Jackie, her husband dies. 

Joe McGann is her spouse and is in need of speaking up, as his gruff Irish voice does not always land fully within the large theatre space. Here is a case of actor singing, where it’s not quite singing, but more in the folk style. His character is less noticeable in the colourful array of workers, each with their own cutting personality. Frances McNamee as Meg has a powerhouse voice which was set alight in one of her tango-inspired songs, setting up her role with a no-nonsense feel, that the single mum had acquired over the years. A small ensemble of singers and musicians are engulfed by the grandeur of the set, though they do give the songs a mighty feel throughout. 

Although there are some rousing moments (the ending gets a little preachy, though I agree about the NHS), the show is for lovers of Sting, those interested in stories of the strikes and those who fancy seeing a new musical.

Rating: ***

The Last Ship contours at the WMC till 19th May 2018.

Weeping Tudor Production’s next show is Everything Changes, the opening act for Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival on 31st May. A fusion of African/Celtic stories with a contemporary twist. Join us!

Photo Credit: Pamela Ralph

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