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Sting's The Last Ship, New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham - review and pictures

How intimidating must it be for an actor or actress to have to perform in front of the show’s creator – particularly if he happens to be international superstar and music legend Sting.

The Last Ship. Pic: Pamela Raith Photography
The Last Ship. Pic: Pamela Raith Photography

But how proud must the singer be when an auditorium of people leap to their feet for a richly-deserved standing ovation as the curtain falls on his creation.

Sting attended the opening night of the show in Birmingham last night, joined by Shaggy - see pictures and quotes from the event here

Judging by the smile on his face as he joined the cast on stage at the New Alexandra Theatre last night, Sting was bursting with pride as well he might be.

The Last Ship is an incredibly powerful show that stirs the soul, lighting a fire in your belly while tugging at your heart strings.

Sting has described The Last Ship as very personal and repayment of ‘an emotional debt’ to the home town he abandoned at the age of 18 but he now credits as helping form his ambition and making him what he is today.

See a trailer for the show here:

The musical is set in the dying years of the shipping industry in a Tyneside town and sees the return of sailor Gideon Fletcher who fled the town as a young man refusing to sacrifice himself to the working life already mapped out for him.

Gideon, played by Richard Fleeshman, returns in the hope of rekindling romance with childhood sweetheart Meg, the girl he left behind not knowing that she was expecting.

He returns in troubled times as the shipyard workers, led by Jackie White, battle for their livelihoods as management and a deliberately Thatcher-esque Government minister attempt to rip the heart and industry out of their community.

Working class hero Jackie is played by Joe McGann and his fiercely loyal wife Peggy by Charlie Hardwick, best known as Val Pollard in Emmerdale. Together the characters are a formidable force but their touching devotion provides some particularly moving moments in the show.

Fleeshman is an amiable Gideon and has a strong voice although seems to fall into the trap of trying to imitate Sting’s smooth, husky style. Frances McNamee portrays a strong, independent and feisty Meg with an equally impressive singing voice.

Clever use of film projection adds impressive depth and atmosphere to the set with the shipbuilders cranes seemingly towering above and the welders sparks lighting up the room. Slick staging and innovative screening creates versatility and seamless scene changes.

As might be expected, the song list is exciting and creative. Many numbers are upbeat, rousing and foot-stomping anthemic tunes. On the other hand, there are also some beautiful ballads such as the emotional When We Dance and the title song, The Last Ship, is particularly poignant.

In truth, the storyline is a little too like Brassed Off - though when the young dancing pugilist came in I thought we were also venturing into Billy Elliot territory.

But it earnestly reflects the demise of industries that has taken place in communities across the country, champions the working classes and unashamedly makes a strong political message.

It is a sad modern story that will resonate with many theatre-goers. Others will appreciate the love story, if slightly predictable, and don’t forget the wonderful music.

Very worthy of a standing ovation – Sting must be very proud.

Runs at the theatre until Saturday.

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