Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
“Be warned,” says the minister for trade and industry to the ship-workers whose livelihood is about to be capsized in Sting’s epic musical. “Don’t make the same mistake as the miners.” The true blue twin-set and hectoring tone the minister adopts are a giveaway in terms of where the attempted destruction of a local community stems from after government-backed management declares the yard to be unsustainable. The projected storm clouds that have been gathering behind the expanse of steel-girdered walkways that make up the remarkable multi-layered set by 59 Productions look like similar portents of doom in the latest piece of musical theatre to be a gloriously rabble-rousing antidote to hard times.
First seen on Broadway in 2014, Sting’s song-cycle of blue-collar romance, ambition and defiance is given a new book by director Lorne Campbell, who weaves its cross-generational strands into a cohesive soap opera full of dramatic heart. At the centre of this is Gideon, the wayward prodigal who fled his seemingly dead-end town, but returns to find Meg, the woman he left behind as a teenager, but gets much more than he bargained for. As rebellion rises amongst the workers, led with gravitas by Joe McGann’s veteran foreman Jackie White, Gideon finally commits himself to the cause.
Campbell’s production, first seen at Northern Stage in Newcastle, is a huge affair. Sting’s songs move between the sweet sparring between Richard Fleeshman’s Gideon and Frances McNamee’s Meg, before evolving into powerful chorales accompanied by a five-piece folk band. If Meg is a latter-day Pirate Jenny, it is Katie Moore’s Ellen who represents the future in a passionate call to arms that offers solidarity and hope in the face of all that is currently wrong with the world.
The Herald, June 13th 2018