HE’S been a leading man on the stages of the West End and Broadway but Richard Fleeshman admits there is something special about his current role in The Last Ship which opens at The Lowry on Tuesday.

Richard plays Gideon Fletcher in the musical written by Sting which looks at the impact the closure of the shipyard has on the local community.

“It’s a very poignant show,” said the former Coronation Street star - he played Craig Harris in the top TV soap from 2002 to 2006.

“On stage I get quite a good vantage point and I see a lot of grown men wiping their eyes at various points. It’s rare that you get a show which prompts such a passionate and honest response from an audience - it’s genuinely a joy to be part of it.”

The Last Ship had a brief run on Broadway in 2014 but has been substantially re-worked for its first UK tour with multi-million selling pop star Sting playing a very hands-on role throughout.

“This is very much Sting’s production,” said Richard. “He’s an absolute genius.”

Richard’s character Gideon returns to his native North East 17 years after running away to join the Navy, rebelling against the idea that he would follow his father into the shipyards. He meets his first love, played by Frances McNamee, who hasn’t forgiven him for abandoning her and also discovers more than he bargained for in the shape of a teenage daughter he didn’t know about.

Set in the 1980s, Richard believes that the show is particularly relevant for a modern audience.

“We have been trying to invite young theatre groups this play,” he said, “because more than most it is a real call to arms and it would be lovely for a younger generation to see it.

“Someone tweeted the other day ‘I brought a reluctant 15-year-old boy to the theatre and I left with an enlightened young man’. That’s brilliant. He’d been dragged kicking and screaming to a musical on a Wednesday evening and adored it. That just shows what a special show this is.”

The Last Ship was inspired by Sting’s upbringing in Wallsend where the shipyards were the town’s major employers.

“The show’s not just about the shipbuilding community in Wallsend,” said Richard. “It has a relevance to every working class community which has been affected by major changes

“It’s about strength of community and a realisation that people working together can make a difference. Now seems as good a time as any to show that we need to rely on people and real connections as they may be the only thing that might save us from spiralling out of control.”

Richard gets to sing several songs penned by Sting including When We Dance which was a single for the former Police lead singer and at times he does sound like Sting himself.

“Quite a few people have said I sound like him but I’ll take that as a massive complement,” said Richard. “It’s not a conscious effort on my part.

“But I’ve said it before, I’m playing the most Sting-like character in Sting’s show with songs written by Sting so it’s going to lead to me singing a bit like him don’t you think?”

Sting was virtually ever-present in the rehearsal rooms from day one.

“Initially it was terrifying,” admits Richard. “He has been one of my heroes for as long as I can remember and there he is, stood at the piano while I sing one of his songs. But we were very fortunate to get to work with him day in, day out and after a few days we all relaxed a bit. He was so helpful to everyone.”

Still only 29, Richard has grown up in the theatre. He comes from a veritable performing dynasty - dad David is an award-winning actor and mum Sue Jenkins is best known for her work on Brookside and in Coronation Street. Sisters Emily and Rosie are also both actors.

His first role was in Manchester in a production of the Demon Headmaster when he was just seven.

“I still have one foot in Manchester so it’s going to be particularly special for me to come to The Lowry with The Last Ship,” he said. “I’m back there every month if I can and my family and friends are there so I’m really looking forward to it.”

This week it was revealed that Richard has been cast in the Stephen Sondheim musical Company which opens in London’s West End in September. But before then, he has a week left of performances as The Last Ship concludes its UK tour at The Lowry.

“To get this show on to the stage of The Lowry and for audiences to see the full enormity of the production will be a perfect way to end the run,” he said.

The Last Ship, The Lowry, Salford Quays, Tuesday, July 3 to Saturday, July 7. Details from 0843 208 6005 or www.thelowry.com