This review comes from Charlotte Bois-Pursey or @cep44 if you're a twitter user :)
Spoiler Alert: This is a review of Rachel Tucker in The Last Ship and may contain spoilers for some readers.
As soon as I heard that Rachel Tucker would make making her maiden voyage on Broadway in The Last Ship I decided that I had to sail across the Atlantic to see it for myself. I then concluded that this epic boat journey would eat into my show watching time so I flew Virgin Atlantic instead, leaving me with plenty of time for a Broadway binge.
So since I’d Do Anything to see Rachel perform, and seeing her in The Last Ship was The Reason for my trip to New York, it’s fairly safe to assume that this review is going to be fairly Rachel focussed. (The fact it’s on the Rachel Tucker FanBlog might also have given you a clue). So let’s get the inevitable “Rachel is fantastic” part of the review out of the way:
Rachel is fantastic. On a superficial level, the red hair really suits her and I loved that her costumes consisted mostly of skinny jeans. She does the best Geordie accent of the cast (ignoring Jimmy Nail who isn’t doing an accent so much as being Jimmy Nail) and her singing is, as ever, sublime. I genuinely think that she has the best number of the entire show in “If you ever see me talking to a sailor”. Not only is the song a catchy tango which shows off a bit of her belting, but the staging is brilliant and Rachel pulls off some nifty moves which I can only describe as “glassography”. Her acting is also brilliant, even in scenes where she doesn’t have much dialogue.
On that note, I may be biased, but I don’t think she gets enough stage time. And she certainly doesn’t have enough songs. What she does, she does brilliantly, but I was left wanting more. (I’m not necessarily asking for them to hoist her into the air astride a broomstick but could they not have considered a Titanic style moment at the bow of the ship?) In all seriousness though, there are some moments which I thought could have been enhanced by a bit more Meg. She spends a long time on stage in silence as “What say you Meg?” is sung to her. I can see why they chose this to be a solo but I thought it had real potential as a duet, with Meg’s part voicing her internal monologue as she reflects on what is being sung to her. Meg also has a huge choice to make at the very end of the show and I thought this was again crying out for some sort of gut-wrenching ballad where Rachel could really let it rip. So much so that I was really surprised when the chorus broke into what was obviously the final number without her having sung again.
So, what about the rest of the show? The plot is pretty simple. The teenage Gideon turns his back on the family tradition of working in the shipyards and runs off to become a sailor, leaving girlfriend Meg behind in Wallesend. Gideon returns 15 years later upon his father’s death to find Meg raising her 15 year old son, Tom, with her new boyfriend, Arthur. Cue love triangle between Gideon, Meg and Arthur.
This is all set against the backdrop of the closure of the shipyard in which most of the men of the town work (except Arthur who has a fancy new job at the company which wants to close the yard down and open a salvage business instead). Rallied by the local priest, they join together to build one last ship, on which they intend to sail off into the sunset For Good. This is where you really need to suspend your disbelief. The issue of how they get the funds to build the ship is dealt with, but it’s really not very clear what they’re going to do with it (or themselves) afterwards.
There will be inevitable comparisons with things like Billy Elliot. In fact, a couple behind me noted that it was very Billy and seemed disappointed about the lack of dancing. The most obvious comparison on Broadway right now is probably Kinky Boots. Again, though, that has a lot more dancing and is generally showier than The Last Ship. I actually saw Kinky Boots the day after The Last Ship and can honestly say that I far preferred The Last Ship. It’s more subtle and the humour, whilst not laugh out loud stuff, is very British. It might not have the dancing boy or troupe of fabulous drag queens to stand out against the backdrop of working class doom and gloom, but it doesn’t need them. The thing that stands out is the music.
The set and staging are also really impressive. I loved the pool of water at the front of the stage and the way they created the ship for the final scene. There’s some very simple, but powerful, choreography, especially at the end of the first Act. There’s also a lot of rather less subtle foot-stomping and glass smashing (although not during the aforementioned glassography section).
Dodgy Geordie accents aside, the cast is generally excellent. I was particularly impressed by Collin Kelly-Sordelet who plays both Tom and the young Gideon. Fred Applegate was also great in the time honoured role of inebriated, foul-mouthed, but generally loveable priest. Sally Ann Triplett is great as Peggy but I rather got the impression that this was a bit part that had been created just to even up the gender balance in a fairly testosterone heavy production. I generally prefer my musicals to be led by a strong female cast, but I actually thought this might have been better if they’d dropped Peggy and made Meg a Meatier part.
Overall, The Last Ship could do with plugging a few plot holes to ensure it remains seaworthy, but it’s a great musical nonetheless and I hope that it makes its way across to our shores very soon – with its leading lady at the helm of course.