The Last Ship Musical docked at Salford’s Lowry theatre tonight, an apt location of the once thriving Salford dock, part of the Manchester Ship Canal that sadly reflected the story of the Last ship and was closed in 1982, resulting in the loss of 3000 jobs. The opening night was an exciting event as we were joined in the auditorium my cast members’ family and Sting.
Notably there was 4 cast changes on tonight’s performance: Penelope Woodman as Peggy White, Parisa Shahmir as Ellie, Orla Gormley as Young Meg and Susan Fay as Baroness Tynedale.
The Last Ship story revolves around the return of local boy Gideon Fletcher (the charismatic and immensely talented Richard Fleeshman), who comes home after 17 years at sea to find his town in turmoil due to the threatened shipyard closure. The story unfolds showcasing the impact on the community and the power of community unity that follow the mantra “you are what you do”. The story weaves around a troubled romance involving a local single mum and pub-owner Meg (Frances McNamee), and her former boyfriend Gideon, who had escaped his unhappy home and sailed off to sea 17 years prior not knowing that she was pregnant.
The heart and soul of the story, though, lies in the struggle of foreman Jack White (Joe McGann) and his men (with iron in their souls) to keep the yard open, and to complete the great ship on the stocks, that is unwanted, unfinished and no longer needed - called The Utopia - before an uncaring government and untrustworthy management finally evict them from the yard.
Sting’s musical was first seen on Broadway in 2014 and is based on his own experience of growing up on Tyneside, although the show has now been given a completely new script and production by Lorne Campbell.
The Ship showcased many characters such as Kevin Wathen is the hard-drinking Davey, disappointed and bitter, and the stoic influential foreman (Joe McGann) Jackie White and his longstanding partner and loyal wife (Penelope Woodman) Peggy White. Each character embellished the story and extended the insight to the impact of the threat of losing what they had always known. There were some outstanding performances tonight especially from Fleeshman and McNamee. However not all performances were great as I struggled with the lack of clarity of lyrics from some performers who traded the need to use the Newcastle accent (not always well) over the importance of the clarity of words and lyrics. Also In my opinion some of the onstage relationships seemed to lack believability and chemistry, such as the Whites and Meg and daughter, I can only presume this was as a result of the last minute cast change.
Although inspired by Sting’s album The Soul Cages, most of the songs are original, and for an unknown musical and story line I found the lack of clarity of lyrics took away from the richness of the story and musical numbers at times. However I did note a few lyrics in the script that are also in the smash hit and one of my favourite new musicals ‘Hamilton’: “out gunned, out maned, outnumbered out planned”. This did make my ears prick up in interest but sadly that’s where the similarity ended for these new musicals.
Parisa Shahmir as Ellie shone tonight in her delivery of Meg’s 16-year old musician daughter, who had inherited her father’s wanderlust and need to break away from the towns’ constraints and her mother’s bristly bravado. Parisa Shahmir also lightly narrates the tale, from a present-day perspective throughout the show.
I personally wasn’t bowled over by this new musical however I have to say I was blown away by 59 Productions’ stage design that was absolutely phenomenal. I’ve seen many sets that use projection as an uninventive way of easy scene changes, however 59 productions brought stage projection zooming into the 21st century with its exquisitely creative projection, as it created the shipyard in all its terrible beauty, a skyline dominated by chimney stacks and cranes, a church, town, seawall and many other scenes that I couldn’t distinguish between a real prop and a projection. Absolute genius, never have I been more impressed by the staging than the show, but tonight this was truly the case with the pinnacle moment at the end of the show as we see the projected explosive launch of a ship that was destined to never sail.
The Ship runs at the Lowry theatre until Saturday 7th July 2018 for more information visit https://thelastshipmusical.co.uk
Reviewer: Victoria Wilmot
Reviewed: 3rd July 2018
North West End Rating: ★★★