Tag Archives: Richard Fleeshman

Closing Down Sail

THE LAST SHIP

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 16th April, 2018

 

I am conscious throughout the performance that just three feet away from me, seated across the aisle, is the show’s lyricist and composer, namely Sting himself.  The Sting, formerly of The Police.  He who used to dream about blue turtles.  Yes, him!  It was all I could do not to fan-girl all over him (Don’t sit so close to me).  Is he aware of me and the intermittent jottings I make in my little notebook, or is he too wrapped up in his baby, watching his show come to life on the stage?  The latter, I suspect.

This new musical – and it is new, rather than a jukebox effort, cobbling together Sting’s back catalogue – tells the story of the closure of a shipyard in the North East (from where Sting hails) and the drastic action taken by the workers and the community to have a say in the outcome.   There is also the love story of Gideon and Meg – he escaped a life shipbuilding and joined the navy instead, but now he’s back, seventeen years later, to see to his late father’s effects, and discovers Meg has a surprise for him, in the shape of a daughter he knew nothing about.  And so, the show’s book (this version by director Lorne Campbell) combines the political with the personal.  The love story works itself out and is handled well, but it is the other story, the rising up of the people against oppression, that stirs and moves us.

The score is rich and melodic, clearly informed by folk music and even sea shanties, with the occasional ballad or show tune here and there. The choreography has more than a hint of clog-dancing to it.  In terms of lyrics, there is copious use of a shipload of rhyming couplets but, this being Sting, there are intelligent rhymes, classical and even scientific references.  The choral singing is beautiful, like a choir, swelling to fill the auditorium and get right inside you.

As the older Gideon, talented heartthrob Richard Fleeshman is easy on both eye and ear – in fact, some of his phrasing and intonation is very Sting-like.  His younger incarnation is a passionate Matt Corner – although I find it difficult to believe there’s supposed to be 17 years between the two! Not that it matters.  The mighty Joe McGann is foreman Jackie White, with an assured, authoritative air – his decline is a metaphor, just as the decline of the shipbuilding industry is a metaphor for what the government is doing to the country in the here and now.  McGann is couple with Charlie Hardwick (Emmerdale’s Valerie Pollard) as his wife Peggy, who evolves from salt-of-the-earth supportive wife to firebrand at the barricades in the show’s most Les Mis moments.   Great though Fleeshman, Corner, McGann and Hardwick are, the thoroughly excellent Frances McNamee’s Meg threatens to outshine them all.  McNamee is spot on, from her sardonic bitterness at Gideon’s return to her emotional account of her teen pregnancy.  Her duets with Fleeshman are definite highlights.

There is strong support from Katie Moore as Ellen, the surprise daughter, and Kevin Wathen’s Geordie Davey is so authentic he’s almost incomprehensible.  Penelope Woodman’s evil Baroness, Thatcher except in name, is the unacceptable face and attitude of politics – unfortunately still prevalent today.

The set, by 59 Productions, impresses with its industrial features and video projections, with added atmosphere courtesy of Matt Daw’s murky lighting design.

Above all, it’s the music that touches us, that rouses us, that grips us, and so by the end when the call-to-arms is issued, and the show’s relevance is shown to be bang up-to-date, we are urged to stand against those who seek to take things from us (our NHS is one example).  The Last Ship is a superb new musical with something to say that I can get on board with.

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Richard Fleeshman gets to grips with Frances McNamee (Photo: Pamela Raith)

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Taking the Piss

URINETOWN

St James Theatre, London, Thursday 6th March, 2014

 

At long last, Urinetown comes to the UK and, let me tell you, it is well worth the wait.   I could write the shortest review ever and just say: PERFECTION.  Or I could go on and on and write a book about how great this show truly is.  I’ll try to land somewhere between the two.

It is set in a dystopian future where a water shortage means bodily functions are strictly regulated.  Everyone has to pay to use public toilets – going elsewhere is strictly prohibited.  Offenders are caught and exiled to the mysterious Urinetown of the title.  Of course, there’s a greedy corporation manipulating and exploiting the situation with politicians and law enforcers in its pay.  Not unlike coalition Britain, ha ha – but the satire of the show is sharper than mine.

When he meets and falls for the corporation boss’s daughter, Bobby Strong embarks on a revolutionary path to restore dignity and socialism to the world.  But the show is about more than a clash of political ideas.  It’s also about musicals, while being a demonstration in how to write and perform a musical.  There’s a lot of frame-breaking fun going on, poking fun at its own form.  Director Jamie Lloyd capitalises on every such moment but the production never becomes too ‘knowing’ or ‘nudge-wink’.  It’s all carried off with camp charm.

Officer Lockstock is our narrator.  Together with Little Sally, who speaks for the audience, he guides us through the show, like a man trapped in the fourth wall.  RSC stalwart Jonathan Slinger is the bully-boy cop and I don’t think he’s ever been better.  Karis Jack’s Little Sally draws our attention to the absurdity and distastefulness of the subject matter, while conveying the character’s blinking innocence.

As Bobby Strong, Richard Fleeshman is certainly swoonworthy, giving us the hero’s blind determination and idealism.  He has a great voice too.  Rosanna Hyland is love interest Hope, fresh-faced and sweet-voiced, she plays the humour of the part to perfection.  Her father, the evil Caldwell B Cladwell is played with relish by Simon Paisley Day.  Marc Elliott is delightfully twitchy and smarmy as Mr McQueen and Adam Pearce is splendid as Lockstock’s partner-in-crime-fighting, Officer Barrel.  Although if Lockstock put his baton to my head to make me pick a favourite, I’d have to opt for Jenna Russell’s hilarious and cartoonish Penelope Pennywise.

It’s an outstanding cast.  An ensemble of energetic minor characters mean there is always plenty going on; some hysterical bits of business make the show consistently funny.  There is also some darkness along the way.  Transgressors are beaten up and bloodied.  We are reminded that there is a serious message to all of this, and it’s not just that capitalism is wrong and that socialism won’t work.  The show reminds us that our way of life is unsustainable.  Without proper management of the world’s resources, we won’t have a world on which to debate ideals, or indeed a pot to piss in.

On the surface it all seems like silliness but Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann’s show is a remarkable piece of work.  You can see why it won tons of awards on and off Broadway.  The production values of this current incarnation should see some awards winging their way to the St James Theatre or there’s no justice.  Soutra Gilmour’s production design gives us a dank and grimy world of brick walls and tiles, like Victorian toilets and sewers.  Ann Yee’s choreography is quirky and funny, as the score sends up a range of musical styles.  The attention to detail is, like much of the production, breathtaking.

Urinetown is a truly refreshing addition to London’s musical theatre.  Like a long, cool glass of water, it makes you want to go again.

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Pissed off: Richard Fleeshman and Jenna Russell