Tag Archives: Richard Fleeshman

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

THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR AND PUBLISHED BY THE REVIEWS HUB

REVIEW: Guys and Dolls – Edinburgh Playhouse

So successful is Chichester Festival Theatre’s 2014 production of Guys and Dolls, that not only has it made the transfer to the West End but has also spawned a comprehensive national tour. Sad to say, however, it appears to have lost some of its five-star sparkle in transit.

An amalgamation of three of Damon Runyon’s Broadway fables; The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown, Pick the Winner and Blood Pressure: shifty, small-time crook Nathan Detroit (Maxwell Caulfield), in need of money to host ‘the oldest established, permanent floating crap game in New York’, bets charismatic cool-cat and inveterate gambler Sky Masterson (Richard Fleeshman), that Masterson can’t get frosty missionary Sarah Brown (Anna O’Byrne) from the Save-A-Soul Mission, to go with him to Havana on a date. A merry band of misfits help colour the tall tale, from eternally engaged, fourteen years a fiancée Miss Adelaide (Louise Dearman), to local low-lives Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Harry the Horse.

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The witty words of Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows are regarded as among the funniest in the musical theatre canon and they remain intact in Gordon Greenberg’s revival. However, the pace and direction of Greenberg’s production lacks the spark required to bring Runyon’s stories fully to life, playing like a poorly connected series of stand-alone scenes rather than a flowing whole.

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None of the faults of the production can be blamed on the cast, with West End leads Louise Dearman, Anna O’Byrne, and Richard Fleeshman and seasoned actor Maxwell Caulfield at the helm, then quality is assured. Dearman turns in an especially effective turn as a Lucille Ball-like Miss Adelaide, managing to balance the humour and pathos brilliantly and Fleeshman conveys the easy charm and charisma of Masterson with aplomb. The supporting cast too is of the highest quality.

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Peter McKintosh’s set design is essentially simple, an arc of lightbulb-ringed adverts and a series of roll-on-roll-off accents, which only really brings the vivid world of New York alive when fully lit. The choreography of Cuban ballet superstar Carlos Acosta and West End stalwart Andrew Wright has been placed firmly centre stage, with extended dance sequences throughout. The duo’s work is especially effective in the ballet-inspired crap game in the sewers with its athletic, inventive sequences and a nod to Acosta’s ballet background in the Swan Lake line up.

With such a top-notch cast and first-rate creative team, it’s hard to see how this could go wrong, but Greenberg’s production falls flat in too many places that if fails to do full justice to the stellar cast and this musical theatre classic. Ultimately unsatisfying.

This review was originally written for and published by The Reviews Hub

Images: Johan Persson