Review: The Last Ship - Sting’s powerful tale of Thatcherite Britain sails on

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STOMPING, emotional and attractively unorthodox in its staging, this touring production of Sting’s Broadway musical is a powerful testament to the stoic dignity of the working-class men and women of our industrial past.

* * * *

FESTIVAL THEATRE, Nicolson Street

The Last Ship tells the story of Gideon Fletcher, played in his younger days by Matt Corner and later years by Richard Fleeshman, despite little age difference between them.

Returning home from 17 years at sea, Gideon must confront his past as the ship-building town he escaped as a teenager collapses around him.

The local yard is closing and no one knows what will come next. With the last ship built on the slipway, picket lines are drawn as foreman Jackie and wife Peggy fight to hold their community together in the face of the gathering storm.

It’s a snapshot of Thatcherite Britain, the denigration of the working man, and the consignment of ‘industry’ to the history books at the whim of the market place.

As Jackie, Joe McGann brings a quiet dignity to the role in a commanding performance that anchors the production.

With Emmerdale’s Charlie Hardwick ‘on the panel’ [sick leave], a glorious Penelope Woodman steps into the shoes of Peggy with a magnificent turn that is the emotional heart of the piece, never more so than in The Soul Cages, a devastating duet with McGann.

If Matt Corner sings and acts the ‘older’ Gideon off the stage, that the charismatic Fleeshman mimics Sting’s vocal delivery throughout is a distraction.

Gideon’s childhood sweetheart Meg finds Frances McNamee on fine feisty form, though again the casting of Katie Moore as her teenage daughter is suspect.

Though poetic and lyrical, the book and score need trimming, a brace of lack lustre snooze-inducing songs could happily be thrown overboard and at times there is the feel of a work in progress as the narrative fails to flow.

On the other hand, the set design by 59 Productions is a mesmeric mix of lighting and projections that are simply out of this world.

Finally, an unexpected line in audience participation feels as if director Lorne Campbell has nipped back in time to Sting’s old home-town, rounded up the locals, popped them down on the stage and told them to tell their story.

It shouldn’t work, but does, blissfully... just don’t forget to clap along to the catchy jig.

Run ends Saturday 16 June