”We All Have a Responsibility as a Country to Rally Together”- Frances McNamee, The Last Ship
| 30th June 2018
The musical, which has deep ties to Sting’s own childhood, is coming to The Lowry in Salford for the tours last stop.
The play follows a fictitious story based on the real Swan Hunters yard in Newcastle’s Wallsend.
We follow the journey of Gideon Fletcher (Richard Fleeshman– Coronation Street, Ghost the Musical) who returns after 17 years to find the childhood sweetheart he left behind Meg Dawson (Frances McNamee –A Midsummer’s Night Dream, The Borrowers).
The Play features a TONY-nominated original score and songs all of which have been written by Sting himself.
VIVA managed to catch up with Frances McNamee and asked her what her experience with the show has been like.
Can you tell us a little bit about The Last Ship and the character you play?
So the show is set in 1986 in Wallsend and it’s set in and around the Swan Hunters shipyard. Basically, all the men have been locked out of the yard for two weeks, nobody knows whats going on. Without giving anything away, they have to make a decision to accept the terms given to them by their employers or take matters into their own hands.
It’s kind of about how the community gathers together and does just that.
The character I play is Meg Dawson who runs the local called the Ship and the Hold. Meg’s got her own sort of backstory going on. She was left by her childhood sweetheart and she’s spent the last 17 years building up and reshaping her life to be a strong independent woman. Then when he comes back, no pun intended, it rocks the boat a little bit.
What has your experience with the show been like?
Amazing. I mean from the off we were told it’s going to be very different from the Broadway one. So we were going to have to park that version because this was going to be its own separate entity.
Its been really hard but really rewarding work. I’m so proud of the show. It seems like people are enjoying it but as a collective company, we all love doing it, especially Sting.
It’s a very special story for him and he’s been very hands-on with changing music and helping us out with what suits people the best. He’s a really good guy and he really cares about this show so his involvement has been a real treat.
You’re from County Durham, so does that make telling the show easier in a way since it’s already in you?
It is a little bit yeah. I think it’s safe to say that aside from Marvin Ford (The Full Monty, Michael McIntyre’s Big Show) who is from Bermuda, everyone is from somewhere in the North.
A lot of Northern towns have been affected by industrial decline. The town that I grew up in, Meryton, was an ex-mining town. I was young when the pit was closing but the after-effect of that was huge. Things really took a downward spiral like shops shutting down. I think a lot will be able to relate to that.
What I can say is that the community spirit, that is so true to life. Everybody sticks together and everybody cares. That’s a lovely thing, especially in the face of adversity.
How does it feel for you having the North represented in such a strong way?
It’s brilliant I think its great to see regional accents on stage and a story that a lot of people don’t know about.
I have every confidence in the power of this show but yeah I think it’s a wonderful thing and I’m really happy to be apart of this and representing the North East.
We know that you had to sing for Sting in your second audition, so can you tell us what that was like?
To be honest it was one of those things where if I had engaged with the fact I was singing for sting I wouldn’t have got the part because I would have been a wreck.
I sort of had to go ”yeah Stings there but I’m auditioning for everybody not just him” in my head. I just had to park it and think of him as just another creative rather than this megastar.
That’s how I handled that but it was amazing. I think it’s always quite nerve-wracking to sing peoples songs back at them because you want to do a good job and you know they have a strong idea of what they want in their head. You just hope for the best that you’re doing it justice.
How are different elements of the show, for example, the projections, like to work with?
Well, we can’t really see because we’re on stage.
Someone had to video some of the ladder projections so we could see it.
When we were in rehearsals Lorne, the writer, would be like ”this bit will be filled with a projection but don’t worry about it now” and we were like yeah but whats happening!
You just have to have faith that all of this wonderful design work is doing a lot of stuff in the background and you don’t really have to worry about it because they have it under control.
How have you got under the skin of your character?
It is something that has been a team effort but sometimes you just read a part and you think I can do this, I haven’t got it straight away but I know a way into it whereas with others you think I’ll never get this.
I just loved her straight away and I was really excited about getting the part. It just felt like a natural fit.
Meg is a troubled character in many ways so how is dealing with that emotion every night?
Other actors will tell you this but we are very on the surface people for the most part so that just comes out. The script and the music are so moving it really does get you which helps an awful lot.
It can be draining sometimes but in a really cathartic and rewarding way so I don’t mind. Honestly, I would rather do a part where I had to pour my heart out every night then come on for a scene and sit in the dressing room.
I love it so I don’t mind.
The play is set in the 80’s so what do you think it is about this play that captures a modern audience?
I think a lot of younger people these days are very politically engaged because they feel like they’ve been done over. I think we all have a responsibility as a country to rally together and try and move forward and make things better for everybody.
For example, Jeremy Corban’s movement I think there are parallels with that. You know ”for the many, not the few”.
It’s a story as old as time itself. The little guy being under the thumb of the wealthy landowners so I do think it will resonate with a modern audience definitely.
The play is so political so it’s strange having it in a musical. Why do you think that works?
That sense of community and coming together through music is really powerful and that wall of sound that we all make I think really works for those crowd scenes.
There’s something about music that you can’t explain its either you listen to it in the background or it gets you in the heart.
It speaks to people on a level that you might not necessarily understand but it’s just difficult to ignore.
What do you think people will take away from the production?
A lot of people have said that they have been motivated by this show because of the sense of community that it depicts. It makes them want to reach out to people and do something to help those who are struggling.
There’s been a lot of letters that say that the show spoke to people in a way that no others have in quite a long time.
So I think a sense of empowerment, the need to do something positive and the tunes are what people are going to take away.
Why should people come and see the show?
I don’t think they’ll have seen one like it in a long time. There is something to be enjoyed by everyone whether you have a personal connection to shipbuilding, live in the area, like Stings music or not.
There’s something for everyone to take away and that might be different from person to person but it’s a universally enjoyable evening.
See our interview with Richard Fleeshman here and look out for our interview with Joe McGann.
To get tickets, click here.