Theatre Review: The Last Ship - Theatre Royal, Glasgow ✭✭✭✭

Review by Sharman Prince

Four years after its premiere in America The Last Ship makes its way around the UK in a new production retaining the music and lyrics of Sting but with a brand-new book by director Lorne Campbell (original book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey).

Stemming initially from Sting's own Northern childhood and his 1990 album, The Soul Cages, the fall of the great shipyards becomes a reflection on mortality with the musical portraying a community, fronted by foreman Jackie White, facing the reality of life without their shipbuilding industry. Simultaneously, we also follow the re-emerging romance between Meg and Gideon who returns to his hometown after 17 years away at sea.

Director Lorne Campbell creates some eloquent moments on stage with the pace generally well sustained, although Act One does require refining and some trimming of the musical score is needed. Campbell's new book comes into its own in the second act, dramatically and emotionally, and ultimately transforms the production into a powerful, political statement.

59 Productions' design, complimented by Matt Daw's lighting, is a stunningly beautiful and evocative environment with impressive projections that enable a cinematic sense of movement within which the working-class nature of the characters is appropriately echoed in the movement of Lucy Hind.

There are some gripping scenes, notably when the book finds its feet and becomes political - as when we see Susan Fay as a Thatcher-like Baroness Tynedale - and the ensemble are wonderful in them. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, several lyrics are unintelligible and sometimes - as in the case of Kevin Wathen channelling a drunk Oliver Reed as Davey - dialogue is equally as indecipherable.

Richard Fleeshman's vocal quality is not necessarily conducive to musical theatre but he nevertheless comes across well as Gideon, especially in Act Two, with a sincere performance that is more than equalled by a dynamic Frances McNamee as Meg. Joe McGann is a solid, rousing Jackie White and he is superbly partnered by Penelope Woodman as his wife, Peggy, who is a powerhouse in the role.

The Last Ship is a little muddled to begin with but, ultimately, surprises with some beautiful songs supporting a plot that metamorphoses into a spirited call to arms for the working class and the conscientious.

The Last Ship is at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow until Saturday 23rd June. Visit ATG Tickets for information and to book tickets.