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The Last Ship at Northern Stage, Newcastle - Sting Interview

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by Andy Coleman (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer living in Birmingham. I like Classic Rock, 70s pop music, football and interviewing celebrities. Follow me on Twitter: @andycoleman9
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Passionate and personal music makes its British debut
It will be a very special homecoming for rock star Sting when his musical theatre production The Last Ship has its UK premiere at Northern Stage in Newcastle upon Time. The 66-year-old musician, who was born in Tyne and Wear, reveals that his first job as a professional musician was as a member of the orchestra in the theatre pit for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in 1971.

''I'm so thrilled that The Last Ship is opening in Newcastle I've gone from being the bass player to the gaffer,'' he says.

The Last Ship, Sting, Richard Fleshman, Joe McGann, Charlie Hardwick, Northern Stage Newcastle, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Musical Theatre, Lorne Campbell, The Police
Homecoming: Sting returns to Newcastle (pic: Mark Savage)


The Last Ship will dock at Northern Stage from March 12 until April 7, 2018. It will then tour the UK, concluding at The Lowry in Salford from July 3 7, 2018.

The musical was initially inspired by Sting's 1991 album The Soul Cages and his own childhood experiences. It tells the story of a community amid the demise of the shipbuilding industry in Wallsend, Tyne and Wear, with the closure of the town's Swan Hunter shipyard. When a sailor named Gideon Fletcher returns home after 17 years at sea, tensions flare in both his family and his town. Picket lines are drawn as foreman Jackie White and his wife Peggy fight to hold their community together.

The Last Ship, Sting, Richard Fleshman, Joe McGann, Charlie Hardwick, Northern Stage Newcastle, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Musical Theatre, Lorne Campbell, The Police
Inspired: Sting performs songs from The Last Ship


Sting explains: ''The Last Ship is a very personal story for me. It's about the town in which I was born and raised, Wallsend, halfway between Newcastle and the North Sea. It was a town that was famous for building ships. Actually, the largest ships on planet Earth were built at the end of my street. I literally lived within spitting distance of the shipyard. I watched thousands of men walk into that shipyard every morning, and watched the same men walk back home at night.

''My grandfather was a shipwright, my father built turbines for ships, so as a young kid I thought that may be my destiny, my fate and in fact it was the last thing I wanted. The shipyard was a dark, dangerous, unhealthy place and I had other dreams. I dreamt that I would be a songwriter, a singer, a musician, and I would sing my songs all over the world. I would become famous, get paid extravagant amounts of money and I must have dreamed that extremely hard because that's what happened to me, by good fortune!''

The Last Ship, Sting, Richard Fleshman, Joe McGann, Charlie Hardwick, Northern Stage Newcastle, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Musical Theatre, Lorne Campbell, The Police
Creative team: Sting and director Lorne Campbell (pic: Mark Savage)


As the principal songwriter, lead singer, and bassist with the Police between 1977 and 1986, Sting became one of the world's best-selling music artists. Combined with his solo work, he has sold over 200 million records. But he has always felt a connection with the Wallsend community, he admits.

''I went back there in my imagination first of all because I realised I had a debt to pay to my community, the community I was brought up in. I wanted to tell their story. I felt I was ideally placed, as a songwriter and as someone from those streets, to tell the story of the last ship.''

He was living in New York at the time so he took the idea to a US-based producer.

''I told him the story and he said 'this is great, this is about communities under threat. To me, this is like Fiddler on the Roof with ships'.''

The Last Ship, Sting, Richard Fleshman, Joe McGann, Charlie Hardwick, Northern Stage Newcastle, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Musical Theatre, Lorne Campbell, The Police
Telling the story: Sting with The Last Ship actor Richard Fleeshman


The show ran on Broadway and in Chicago and then Karl Sydow, the producer of such stage hits as Dirty Dancing, suggested it should really be staged in Britain.

''It was the reverse of how it should have been done but I've never obeyed the rules,'' laughs Sting. ''The themes are universal ones that I think we'll recognise the closure of an industry, the closure of a factory, the closure of a mine; where a town has got its identity from the work that it did is something I think all of us will recognise. It's also a love story and there's a lot of laughter and joy and fun in the show, but it's a serious musical, if that's possible.''

He adds that the production is constantly evolving.

''For me, a play is never finished. It's constantly being rewritten every night. We decided that for the English audiences it needed to be a little more political because it's in the context of where it's from, the social and political issues were very important to us. The story has a few less strands; I thought it was very complicated on Broadway, so it's now a little more straightforward. But it's changing every day. I'm in the rehearsal room with the cast, tinkering and pestering them, I'm a total pain!''

The Last Ship, Sting, Richard Fleshman, Joe McGann, Charlie Hardwick, Northern Stage Newcastle, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Musical Theatre, Lorne Campbell, The Police
Show stars: Joe McGann, Charlie Hardwick and Richard Fleeshman


The three lead members of the cast disagree that Sting is 'a total pain'.

Richard Fleeshman (Gideon), Joe McGann (Jackie) and Charlie Hardwick (Peggy) are effusive with their praise for the superstar.

''He's inspiring and generous, enthusiastic, helpful and supportive,'' says Charlie, who is best known for her role as Val Pollard in television soap Emmerdale.

The Last Ship, Sting, Richard Fleshman, Joe McGann, Charlie Hardwick, Northern Stage Newcastle, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Musical Theatre, Lorne Campbell, The Police
Enthusiastic: Sting performs with Joe McGann, Charlie Hardwick and Richard Fleeshman


Adds Joe, who has starred in Elf The Musical and TV's The Upper Hand: ''He's smart and involved, committed, caring about what's going on he's Sting, he's the geezer!''

Former Coronation Street actor Richard concludes: ''He's a perfectionist but I think that conjures up the idea that he rules with an iron rod and it's the complete opposite. It's ultimate care: tweaking and checking. If someone's struggling with a rhythm or a note or a beat or whatever, it's 'let's make it work for this individual', which is unheard of.''

The Last Ship, Sting, Richard Fleshman, Joe McGann, Charlie Hardwick, Northern Stage Newcastle, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Musical Theatre, Lorne Campbell, The Police


The Last Ship 2018 UK and Ireland tour dates:

March 12 April 7: Northern Stage, Newcastle upon Tyne;
April 9 14: Liverpool Playhouse;
April 16 21: New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham;
April 23 28: Royal & Derngate, Northampton;
April 30 May 5: Grand Theatre, Leeds;
May 7 May 12: Playhouse, Nottingham;
May 14 May 19: Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff;
May 28 June 2: Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin;
June 11 June 16: Festival Theatre, Edinburgh;
June 18 June 23: Theatre Royal, Glasgow;
June 25 June 30: Theatre Royal, York;
July 2 July 7: The Lowry, Salford.
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Why? First UK tour for Sting's The Last Ship musical
When: From March 12, 2018
Phone: 0191 230 5151
Where: Northern Stage, Barras Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RH and touring
Cost: From 10
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