Richard Fleeshman takes leading role in Sting’s musical The Last Ship

Richard Fleeshman as Gideon Fletcher in The Last Ship (c) Pamela Raith

Richard Fleeshman as Gideon Fletcher in The Last Ship (c) Pamela Raith - Credit: Archant

Wilmslow actor Richard Fleeshman explains how auditioning in front of one of his musical heroes landed him a dream role. Words by Janet Reeder

Sting's musical, The Last Ship (c) Pamela Raith

Sting's musical, The Last Ship (c) Pamela Raith - Credit: Archant

Having to sing for Sting is arguably one of the most nerve-wracking experiences that Wilmslow actor Richard Fleeshman has experienced in his career to date.

Richard has been acting since he was 12 when he played Craig Harris in Coronation Street, going on to win critical acclaim in musicals such as Ghost and Guys and Dolls but even he was in awe when he auditioned for a leading role in Sting’s musical The Last Ship.

The stunning show is directed by Lorne Campbell, the artistic director of Northern Stage and features set design by 59 Productions, the team behind the video design for the 2012 London Olympic Games.

‘I first went to see Lorne, the director, and then they gave my agent a call and said would you come in on Saturday and sing for Sting. So it was a pretty nerve-wracking audition as you can imagine,’ Richard reveals as he takes a break between performances in Newcastle-upon-Tyne where the show made its debut last month .

‘I’m a huge fan of Sting. I have been for years and any audition can make you incredibly nervous, especially when you really want the job but when you have the added thing of it being in front of someone you respect, who happens to be an international superstar, it definitely adds to it. But Sting is an incredibly humble guy and we have even joked about it since.’

The Last Ship, which includes Joe McGann, Charlie Hardwick and Frances McNamee in the cast was initially inspired by Sting’s 1991 album The Soul Cages and his own childhood experiences. It tells the story of a community amid the demise of the shipbuilding industry in Tyne and Wear, with the closure of the Swan Hunter shipyard.

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Richard plays a sailor named Gideon Fletcher who is returning home after 17 years at sea to find his community in crisis. The musical’s first incarnation made its debut in New York four years ago and won Sting a Tony award nomination but what we will be seeing when it arrives at the Lowry theatre on July 3rd is in effect a new show.

‘Thankfully, we are still using Sting’s amazing music but this is a brand new production, not just in the sense it’s got a new cast, it’s been completely revamped and re-worked and made more politically accurate and can resonate more on a historical level than it did in New York just because geographically it means more,’ explains 28-year-old Richard.

‘It really is a whole new approach to this great piece of music Sting has written.’

The show has been given the added wow factor by 59 Productions, the Tony Award-winning company of artists responsible for the video design of the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, the smash hit, War Horse and the design and the decor concept design for The Met Ball, hosted by Anna Wintour, to name just a few of their impressive credentials.

‘It’s astonishing,’ admits Richard.

‘I don’t think any of us realised the scale of what they were trying to achieve when we were in the rehearsal room. They do these unbelievable projections and they have hundreds of projectors and things can literally materialise out of thin air in front of your eyes. After doing Ghost I never thought I’d see a set that was as incredible and this one is just amazing to witness.’

Two people who were there on the first night of the show and have been there for him throughout the lows and highs of his career are of course his parents, the actors David Fleeshman and Sue Jenkins, famed for her roles in Brookside and Coronation Street.

‘Yes, my parents came to the first night - of course!’ he laughs... ‘and they’re going to see it again at the Lowry.’

With his sister Emily, also an actor, and his other sister, Rosie, winning best new play award for the Narcissist in the Mirror at the recent Manchester Theatre Awards, the Fleeshman family are very much looking like a northern theatrical dynasty.

‘I think it’s just like anything. It can work both ways. You can have parents who are incredibly passionate about music and their kids never want to become musicians and it can work the other way where you are surrounded by something and it’s a kind of osmosis,’ explains Richard.

‘I guess that’s what happened to us. We were in green rooms and on sets, watching my dad on stage or watching my mum on set from the year dot so it just happens. You just think “this is what I want to do”. There was never a doubt in my mind and I know Rosie is the same. It was never a case of encouraging or discouraging us, although to be honest with you they’d probably have been thrilled if I said I wanted to be a doctor.

‘I have some very talented friends and it’s not always roses and sunshine and sometimes they are not working. The beauty of having two parents who are actors is when those hard times arise I have the luxury of having two people who just say, “We get it. We’ve been there” whereas so many of my contemporaries don’t. They have parents who don’t understand them and ask “when are you going to quit and get a real job?” and that must be incredibly tough. So that’s something I’m extremely grateful for.’

Richard has lived in London for around 10 years now and spent a couple of years in the USA but his closest friends live in Manchester and Cheshire so he tries to get back up north every six weeks.

‘All my pals live around south Manchester and Wilmslow so I’m always popping up here there and everywhere,’ he says.

‘I’m not mad on clubs any more and I don’t like dingy pubs. I like somewhere in between. I quite like hearing what people are saying to me.’

As well as acting he’s also a singer songwriter but there’s one thing he’s always recognised for and that’s playing Rosie Webster’s Goth boyfriend in Coronation Street.

‘It’s funny, I was in Corrie when I was 12 and I was there till I was 16 and people never ask if I’m ever going to go back and do any other job, it’s always about Coronation Street. It’s such a huge colossal thing, so much part of the culture of England. I saw Denise Welch the other night and we said it’s going to be on our gravestones. It’s a lovely thing and I’m very proud of having been part of it but it’s monumentally difficult to ever be thought of as away from it.’

The Last Ship, July 3rd– 7th 2018

The Lowry, Salford | 0843 208 6000