All credit to the technical team that after a few opening night glitches, the set was shipshape, and we were set to embark on a poignant journey with The Last Ship, with music and lyrics by Sting.
The original book was by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, with the show premiering on Broadway. Director Lorne Campbell has created a new book, and along with other creatives, including Sting, who worked closely with the cast in rehearsals, has breathed new life into this intensely British musical that champions Tyneside life and the power of community.
The 16-strong ensemble, backed by the brilliant live Last Ship Band, sang and danced with gusto; the voice of the people was heard loud and clear.
Sting’s songs throughout the musical covered a huge range, from foot stomping anthems to heart-rending ballads such as Dead Men’s Boots, and these carried most of the story line.
Richard Fleeshman was superb in his role of Gideon Fletcher, a young man, who didn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps and who had left Tyneside to return 17 years later after deserting his girlfriend Meg Dawson (portrayed by Frances McNamee).
There was the spirit of hope in the story, despite the decline of the shipping industry, with Meg’s daughter Ellen (brilliantly played by Katie Moore) being the musical phoenix that would rise from the industrial ashes.
Joe McGann, as you would expect from such a veteran actor, was excellent in his role of highly respected, stoic foreman Jackie White.
Penelope Woodman stood in for Charlie Hardwick, playing the part of Jackie’s loyal wife Peggy, a real stalwart of the community who was also highly respected, and she made the part her own.
The duet between them as Jack faced his final journey brought a lump to the throat.
Chorus numbers, and powerful solo performances packed a real punch.
Along with a truly awe-inspiring set design by 59 Productions (which would change from girders and gantries to magical starry skies in the blink of an eye) and a passionate, energetic cast, you left the theatre with a fire in your belly and hope in your heart.