Review: The Last Ship, Liverpool Playhouse

By Andy Green

I KNOW I’m in for a good night when the first note of the first song sends shivers down my spine.

The Last Ship, with music and lyrics by Sting, began its UK tour at a packed Playhouse last night and it was incredibly good.

A previous incarnation of the show had received a less than enthusiastic reception on Broadway – maybe not surprising given the subject matter. Now though, with a new book written by director Lorne Campbell combined with audiences that understand where it’s coming from, The Last Ship is an absolute triumph.

We all know Sting can write a good tune but he’s surpassed himself with this show. The songs are lovingly, expertly crafted – a songsmith at the top of his game.

And the performances…what can I say? Every single one of them was bang on the button.

Richard Fleeshman plays Gideon Fletcher who escapes Wallsend and the seemingly inevitable life in the ship yard by joining the Navy, only to return 17 years later to join the fight to save the yard and rekindle his young love.

Fleeshman sounds uncannily like Sting when he sings, which I assume is intentional, and he’s such a confident performer that he’s a joy to watch. He’s also very easy on the eye (always a bonus).

Joe McCann plays Jackie White, the yard’s foreman, a fair man who you just know has a heart of gold and Charlie Hardwick plays his wife Peggy. If I had to single out one actor for particular praise in this production it would be Charlie Hardwick – best-known to people as Emmerdale’s Val Pollard – she’s superb and with a cracking voice. There’s a wonderful warmth to her performance, you just want to go round to her house for tea.

Top singing honours though go to Frances McNamee who plays Meg Dawson, the sweetheart that Gideon left behind. This is a show full of spine-tingling moments and McNamee is responsible for a fair few of them. Some musical theatre singers can sound brash and be verging on the histrionic but Frances McNamee is in possession of a beautiful instrument and she knows exactly how to use it.

Special mention has to go to the set – it’s stunning. 59 Productions clever use of projections mean that The Last Ship is a feast for the eyes as well as the ears.

The Last Ship is a show that’s gone back to the drawing board and indeed to its roots – it is now, dare I say, faultless.

You have to go and see this, even if you hate musicals, you have to go and see this.

The Last Ship is at the Playhouse until 14 April and then continues on a UK tour.