What have we got? We’ve got nowt else.
I feel like I’ve got nowt at all from The Last Ship, other than a wasted three hours sat watching a cast do nothing but discuss the shipyard. There really is no plot to this show: the powers that be are shutting down a shipyard. The workers aren’t happy. Calling upon their Newcastle spirit, they decide to pull together and finish the ship (despite this going against all orders and it, frankly, being entirely pointless). But who’s going to sail the £130m ship off into the distance? Enter Gideon Fletcher, a man who rocks up after running away 17 years ago and who, somehow, inexplicably, manages to steal the hearts of an entire community and take centre stage of the ship-stealing despite turning his back on his friends, family and girlfriend for no other reason than this: he just didn’t fancy working in the shipyard.
This may be different if you have a personal connection with the shipyards or their closing down many years ago but I, for one, don’t really care about the basics of this show. If you look at the likes of The Full Monty or Brassed Off, you’ll see beautifully crafted sub-plots and complex, likable characters we really feel for. Do I care about the steel workers because I care about the factory? No. I care about Gaz and Dave, and all they represent. The book, written by Lorne Campbell, John Logan and Brian Yorkey, messily attempts to create well-rounded characters, but doesn’t give them any conflict, complexity or points of empathy aside from the shipyard. Getting bored of reading about the shipyard? Yeah, I thought so.
Rock sensation Sting’s attempts to write a musical showcase just show how skilled musical wizards such as Andrew Lloyd Webber really are. I don’t mind folky tunes, as they go, but the songs in The Last Ship become repetitive after the cast’s umpteenth time of singing them.
Now for the cast… Richard Fleeshman as Gideon plays the part with an average swagger. His mild love interest Meg Dawson is played by Frances McNamee, whose voice is particularly powerful. Joe McGann plays foreman Jackie White with little more than a whisper – his singing lets him down and I doubt he’d manage to lead a troupe to rebel against the system. His other half Peggy, beautifully played by Penelope Woodman in the absence of an unwell Charlie Hardwick (get well soon), is a much more powerful presence and a strong female character. The supporting performers are well-cast and provide pleasant, rousing chorus scenes (aside from Orla Gormley, who overacts throughout and becomes rather distracting).
The best thing about this production, by a country mile, is the staggeringly skilled set design. Designed by 59 Productions, the gorgeous use of projection seamlessly transforms the set from the shipyard to the dock to houses and villages. We’re in the action and feeling part of the story at every moment. It’s an absolute masterclass of set design, and I’m honestly surprised I haven’t seen more productions using clever, intricate use of projection in this way. Watch this space, I see a new set design trend on the way.
Here’s the Sting-ger about The Last Ship – for Police fans, it sounds nothing like Police. For musical fans, it’s not got the gravitas to hold up favorably against its competitors. For those fond of a politically focused plays, similar plays and musicals are much more evocative. I’m not sure what this production has to offer, other than a strong list of powerful, talented names backing its success. I look forward to seeing how the rest of the tour goes, and how it’s received elsewhere. Judging by the standing ovation of last night’s crowd, I feel I must be missing something.
Catch The Last Ship at York Theatre Royal until 30th June 2018.
Photography credited to Pamela Raith