(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/22.)
Having bombed on Broadway, this musical by Sting about the shipbuilding industry is being revived on its native soil with a new book by its director, Lorne Campbell. The only mystery is why the show ever premiered in the US in the first place: it is a deeply British musical that champions Tyneside life and that leaves you in no doubt where it stands on Thatcherite economics. It was received, quite rightly, with full-throated acclaim by its Newcastle audience.
The show, which originated in a concept album by Sting, explores his complex feelings about England’s north-east, where he grew up. The hero, Gideon, rejects the idea of following his father into the Wallsend shipyards, sails the world and returns 17 years later hoping to pick up where he left off with his former girlfriend, Meg. But Gideon is not only romantically naive. This is the 1980s and the local shipyard is abruptly threatened with closure by its owners amid government refusal to sanction “a Soviet-style bailout”. The only solution to both sides of the story is for Gideon and the workers to seize control of their own destiny.