Tag Archives: Joe McGann

REVIEW: The Last Ship – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Sting’s musical love song to his Tyneside homeland, The Last Ship, is in his own words to: “repay a debt” to the area he left early in his career.

Starting life unsuccessfully in the US, it finally comes home to an audience with whom the story resonates: mid-80s, Thatcherism, the Conservative pursuit of the Trades Unions and the decline of the British ship-building industry. Director Lorne Campbell has re-worked the book from its initial run and the improvements are many.

Wallsend, Tyne and Wear, two weeks shy of the completion of a commission to build a ship, the local consortium goes into receivership, the vessel, literally destined for the scrap yard. Inspired by the Clyde shipbuilders ‘work in’ of 1971, the workers, lead by shop steward Jackie White (Joe McGann) occupy the yard in order to complete the ship. Into this situation arrives Gideon Fletcher (Richard Fleeshman), home from 17 years at sea, to find Meg (Frances McNamee), the girl he left behind (unbeknownst to him, pregnant at the time), still here in town.

As evidenced by the success of Billy Elliot, with which, inevitable comparisons will be drawn, a British-specific storyline that resonates with an audience will always be a winner and it is largely thus with The Last Ship. It is nostalgic and unashamedly tugs at the heartstrings but, it is sufficiently compelling despite the message it somewhat heavy-handedly tries to hammer home. It’s not without its faults though: the hefty running time, due in no small part to an excess of songs that do little to advance the story and poor diction from a number of cast members that renders the lyrics inaudible, turn it into a theatrical endurance test at times. The plot is a slow burn and takes the entirety of the first act to establish itself. It must also be said that the characterisations are uneven, some have reasonably well-developed back stories, while others remain disappointing caricature Geordie stereotypes.

Partly inspired by Sting’s album The Soul Cages, the music is mostly original to the work. It is ballad heavy, and given the nature of the subject matter this isn’t unexpected, but many are somewhat reminiscent of each other. The melodies are unmistakably Sting. There are a few stand-outs though, the title song in particular is majestic. Where the music soars is in the choral singing, the impassioned voices which raise to fill the auditorium are undeniably beautiful. It is here that the work becomes truly stirring. The performances are universally sound throughout. Joe McGann and Penelope Woodman, playing yard foreman Jackie and his wife Peggy, are particularly worthy of note.

The set from 59 Productions is an absolute winner, the lighting by Matt Daw and the projection design is sumptuous, it’s a joy for the eyes throughout.

In Glasgow, The Last Ship is playing to a crowd who very much understand the history of the shipyards and the scars that the Conservative government rendered are still in evidence. The mentions of the Parkland students, the Irish abortion vote and the NHS are welcomed with rousing cheers. This is a work that will resonate with many, however, some judicious editing would have made for an even more powerful message hitting home.

Runs until 23 June 2018 | Image: Contributed


REVIEW: April in Paris – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews here

John Godber’s gentle but bittersweet comedy drama April in Paris exploits the all-too familiar vagaries of life within a 28 year marriage that has disintegrated into petty annoyances, awkward silences and disappointment at dreams unfulfilled.

Told as a series of short vignettes, shop worker (and compulsive competition enterer) Bet, and unemployed builder husband (and amateur artist) Al, are at the point where their lives have shrunk to within the walls of their tiny home. Their conversation consists of her squabbling about him leaving tide marks around the bath and his resenting her spending £2.50 on a scarf. But when Bet wins a mini-break to Paris in a competition, their polarised opinions about the trip eventually come together to form a small glimpse of what life could be like for them outside of their not so comfortable, comfort zone.

Written in 1992, and despite a revisit by the author to update the piece, the play retains many of the stereotypes of the era; the critical wife, the embarrassing working classes abroad and their lack of ambition and motivation. Yes, we are again in the grip of a crippling recession, unemployed is high and prospects low, yes, there are still people who cling on to their xenophobic views about our European neighbours, yes, not every woman is a feminist, but one would hope that in the 22 years that have passed we might be a tad more enlightened and informed.

The central performances by Shobna Gulati (Bet) and Joe McGann (Al) can’t be faulted though, both manage to wring every laugh they can out of the script as well as beautifully realise the many moments of pathos within the piece. Gulati in particular has fine comic timing and her low-key, dry delivery is spot on. Both actors to their credit also manage to keep the characters from turning into grotesque caricatures and the pair, despite their words and deeds at times being less than kind, remain utterly likeable throughout.

This is a gentle, low-key but utterly relatable play which offers a window into a relationship that will doubtless strike a chord with many long-marrieds.