Review: Sting’s The Last Ship comes to the Royal and Derngate
Written by Christy Houghton on April 26, 2018
It’s a fantastic story of love, family and community in the face of adversity and I would recommend it to anyone who loves a good dramatic musical.
As someone who did not know anything about this play before I heard it was at the Royal and Derngate, I was pleasantly surprised on the night. When you walk in, the first things you notice are the projections of dark clouds which set the slightly dark tone, and the ambient bird noises that make you feel you’re actually by the water. The cast began the show out of character, freestyle dancing, wandering around the stage and engaging the audience in an interactive way I’ve never seen outside of panto. This never took me out of the story and only enhanced my interest in the characters. Their talent showed before the production even began.
The context of the show is that it takes place in 1980s Newcastle when a shipyard became too expensive for the owner, who intends to take apart the last ship and make most of the characters redundant. The Last Ship – with lyrics and music by Sting – is based on the singer’s own experience around that place and time. It’s rooted in history, but it focuses on the people who shape the story. Older people than me would probably appreciate the wider context more than I did but, for me, the storyline involving the separation and reunion of characters is what had me on the edge of my seat. The tension is built up and then spectacularly broken by the next song or clever joke. You could hear Sting’s influence in all the songs and my personal favourite thing is that there was so much emotion in the songs, and not too much dancing. There were emotive stomps and the occasional jazz hand, depending on the tone of the song.
Richard Fleeshman and Frances McNamee stole the show in my opinion as the childhood sweethearts who are now all grown up. The younger versions of their characters, Gideon and Meg, introduce the audience to the start of their story in an emotional flashback. The adult pair were arguably the best singers of the night and I was impressed that all the actors were able to stay in their Geordie accents, even when in song. The narrator (Katie Moore) was a mysterious figure until she was revealed to be an essential part of the story. Her character was even reminiscent of Sting himself at times. Jackie (Joe McGann) and Peggy (Charlie Hardwick) were another couple who faced separation while defying the shipyard owners to save their livelihood and that of their friends. All the minor characters were given their own traits which gave even more depth to the story and added to the stakes as well as the comedy. It’s been said that the best performances are ones that make you feel something, and this definitely has something for everyone.
Saturday 28 April is your last chance to catch this emotional and impactful play. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t miss your chance! Visit the Royal and Derngate website to book your tickets and find out more.