Sting made an intimate appearance in Leeds today to launch the UK run of his musical.
The multi-million-selling frontman of The Police and solo artist turned out to the City Varieties Music Hall to promote The Last Ship, which will open at sister venue Leeds Grand Theatre in April.
Sting and three new cast members performed songs from the production for a small number of invited guests.
The show premiered in Chicago in summer 2014 before a brief stint on Broadway in New York and elsewhere, but a “re-jigged” and “more political” version with a British cast begins in the UK next month.
The Last Ship is based on the closure of a Swan Hunter shipyard, telling the story of sailor Gideon Fletcher (played by Richard Fleeshman) returning home after 17 years at sea amid the tensions of industrial decline.
Sting, who topped the charts with bandmates in the 1970s and 80s after writing hits such as Every Breath You Take, said he remembers the ships being built “right next door” – a way of life he originally rejected.
The star, born Gordon Matthew Sumner on October 2, 1951 in Wallsend, said: “Some of the biggest ships ever built on planet earth were built at the end of the street.
“There was little else in town in the way of work.
“I imagined that was the future for me and it was the last thing I wanted. The shipyard for me was a dark, frightening place.”
When closures occurred, “skillsets that were built up over generations were thrown on the scrapheap”, said Sting.
He felt the stories of those caught up in the struggle – men and women – ought to be known and sought the blessings of former workers to create the musical.
“It’s incredibly personal to me because I knew those people and I was brought up with those people and their story has not really been told,” he said.
“I thought I was in an ideal position as a songwriter.”
Speaking to the YEP after his appearance, he added: “I was brought up in this really industrial environment that I took for granted. In hindsight it was an extraordinary place of symbolism. Ships going out and returning – it sort of became a symbol for my own life.”
The show tackles themes of how a community’s “self-esteem” is ripped out when its major industry falls, and the UK version focuses on more specifically 1980s politics.
Sting said: “It destroys communities for reasons that are abstract.
“The business of economics is community – if you forget community, I’m not sure what economics means.”
Included in the new cast is Joe McGann as Jackie White, who has replaced Jimmy Nail after the Auf Wiedersehen, Pet star and long-time friend of Sting had his place was “withdrawn”, according to producer Karl Sydow.
Also appearing will be Charlie Hardwick as his wife Peggy White, Richard Fleeshman and Frances McNamee as Meg Dawson.
Tyne and Wear-born Hardwick, who is known to many as Val Pollard from Leeds-based soap Emmerdale, also remembers “people who could build ships sitting in their living rooms and signing on to the dole”.
The UK and Ireland run of The Last Ship starts in Newcastle on Monday, March 12, and heads to Leeds Grand Theatre between Monday, April 30 and Saturday, May 5.
People can book tickets on 0844 848 2700.