The Last Ship

Friday 4th May – At school in 1970’s Gateshead we were taught a song about the legend of the Lambton Worm – A tale surrounding the antics of a giant worm that folklore tells terrorised a Wearside village a few miles south of my parents Tyneside residence at that time.

Yesterday, sitting in the Leeds Grand Theatre watching Sting’s musical The Last Ship, the first two lines of the Lambton Worm’s chorus sprung to mind. Sung in a Wearside dialect the lyrics that popped into my conscious mind were:-

Whisht! Lads, haad yor gobs,
An Aa’ll tell ye’s aall an aaful story

For the uninitiated, the words suggest listeners hold their tongues and pay attention to the storyteller’s melancholic and thought provoking tale.

The lyrics don’t appear in the Tyneside-born singer/songwriter’s yarn; set in the mid 1980’s. That was folklore of a different kind, telling of decimation of ship building industry in the former Police frontman’s hometown of Wallsend. As with all stories of the government’s heavy-industryocide’***, though, those words wouldn’t have been out of place if uttered by the show’s narrator.

*** I know there isn’t a word(s) heavy-industryocide, but there should be!

Sitting watching the highly accomplished cast including Joe McGann, Richard Fleeshman and Charlie Hardwick guide us through the story of the Tyne yards last ship build, my mercurial mind welcomed another unexpected visitor – Local BBC anchor-man from that era, Mike Neville. Memories evoked of the genial Geordie who often commenced a 1970s/80s bulletin with news of Tyneside’s Swan Hunter shipyard. It never seemed to be a positive broadcast.

Being a consummate professional, Neville (who sadly passed last year) couldn’t and didn’t opine his political leanings when delivering more bleak news concerning the ever changing industrial landscape in the north east of England.

He didn’t have to – His look of distain, replacing his usual mischievous grin, appearing to show the displeasure of his beloved area being shorn of it’s traditional jobs, union rights and dignity. A facial display of disenchantment also seen if Neville was reporting on evil or cruel crimes, or if he ever forgot the words to the song ‘Keep Your Feet Still, Geordie Hinny‘.

As I alluded to earlier, the stars of Sting’s musical were Joe McGann, Richard Fleeshman and Charlie Hardwick. McGann one of four almost identical acting brothers whose facial similarities bring into question whether sixty years ago Liverpool undertook a clandestine human cloning programme.

Anecdotally, Jimmy Nail was favourite to play Jackie White (McGann’s role) but couldn’t as was learning the words to ‘Keep Your Feet Still, Geordie Hinny’ for his upcoming theatre project – ‘Mike Neville, The Musical‘. Regardless if it’s true or not, Joe McGann nailed the part of head union man…….. See what I did there?…… Nailed the part!…… Ok I’ll move on!

Last year, I saw Richard Fleeshman, who last night portrayed local lad turned naval officer Gideon Fletcher, play Sky Masterton in Guys & Dolls. After witnessing his performance in the role made famous by Marlon Brando in the 1955 movie version, I wrote a parody review waxing lyric about his splendid voice, and assured acting.

The 28 year old Mancunian’s performance last night, as the errant Geordie lad returning home after 17 years away from his roots, was equally as commanding. Although, to be honest, I felt uncomfortable every time I looked at the lad on stage, recalling I used to fancy his mum Sue Jenkins, watching her in Brookside and Corrie back in the day….. They say you start feeling old when policemen look younger – I’d add being enamoured with an adult actor’s mother in the 1980’s as a similar trigger

Unsurprisingly, Charlie Hardwick nailed the role of ballsy union man’s missus. Ballsy with a brash Geordie accent her speciality for over a decade playing Val Pollard in Emmerdale.

Ms Hardwicke’s north east dialect so strong if there was a TV Soap Award category for Actor Most Likely To Say “Ganning hyem for wor scran!” she’d win it hands down….. Or she would if still working in a TV soap, and Cheryl Cole or a host of Channel Four continuity announcers didn’t start appearing in that field of drama.

Throughout my narrative I’ve described this as Sting’s musical. I’ve been remiss at not mentioning the director and book writer Lorne Campbell’s excellent contribution, in addition to the brilliant stage set by 59 Productions. It’s authenticity making it feel you were witnessing proceeding sat on a Wallsend harbour wall…… A scene made even more realistic when a seagull stole the haddock from my fish butty!

In the programme Sting states one of his drivers for the project was to give a voice to the community of the town he abandoned in his youth. A place where he had zero aspirations to work, or desire to graft in it’s traditional heavy industries.

Apparently, at Friday evening’s performance of the show (at the same West Yorkshire venue) Sting will make an appearance at the curtain call. I hope he and the marvellous cast receive the standing ovation the production deserves……. I’m sure Mike Neville will be looking down from the balcony in the sky in approval – Happy in the knowledge you did his region and it’s aaful story proud.

One thought on “The Last Ship

  1. Pingback: Basking In The Glory – Gary Strachan – "Write" Said Fred

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