David Mirvish presents
THE LAST SHIP
Produced by Karl Sydow and Kathryn Schenker
Music and lyrics by Sting
New book by Lorne Campbell (original book by John Logan and Bryan Yorkey)
Scenic design by 59 Productions
Featuring: Sting, Frances McNamee, Jackie Morrison, Oliver Savile, Marc Akinfolarin, Joe Caffrey, Philip Childs, Suxan Fay, Rebecca Gilhooley, Orla Gormley, Annie Grace, Sean Kearns, Tom Parsons, Jade Sophie Vertannes, Kevin Rathen, Sophie Reid, Barney Wilkenson, James William-Pattison
At the Princess of Wales Theatre
Lovers of musical theatre unite! You have nothing to lose but your hearts!
The Last Ship has docked at the Princess of Wales theatre and the captain is on board. If you move quickly you will have an opportunity to see and hear Sting in a musical that he created, first as a concept album and now as a fully fleshed out powerful invocation of the British working class of northern England, where Sting was born and raised (as one Gordon Mathew Thomas Sumner) in the town of Wallsend on Tyne. It just goes to show you can take the lad out of the working class, but you can’t take the sense of decency, class conscience and solidarity out of the lad. Sting has demonstrated this in abundance for his entire career.
As a musical, The Last Ship is a very personal and politically partisan portrayal of a community that decides – together – to take a big leap of faith. When the owners of the large ship building company that has given employment to that region of the country for many years, announces its closure, the workers decide to take over the factory and keep it in operation. This is where I believe The Last Ship differentiates itself from a number of recent musicals and dramatic plays that also portray plots and characters that spring from a working class milieu. The Last Ship is very much an ensemble piece that has no one single character or protagonist that drives the narrative. The people of the town collectively are given agency and push the story forward.
But what it might sacrifice with regard to common conventions in musical theatre, it makes up for with a buoyant score that continually crests when the chorus of shipyard workers join with their friends, family and the broader community to proclaim unequivocally that they we will not be beaten down and exploited by the forces of a brutal, global capitalism that sees human beings as so much jetsam when profit is under threat. The audience the night I saw the show resoundingly seconded this emotion.
If this recalls to you the work of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, so be it. Beyond the libretto and the score there are stunning digitalized scenic elements that would have fit quite nicely within the concept of an epic theatre.
This is not to say there is no love story in this musical – there is and it is poignant. This is not to say there are no villains. There are and they stand in for the most reprehensible breed of CEOs and reactionary politicians at work in every country of the world today. And there is a strong bevy of other characters as well: the working class intellectual with a wry sense of humor; the town alcoholic; the woman who demands choices in her life and joins with her sisters when the community rises up against the closing of the yard; and the leaders of the union along with a sympathetic foreman (battling his own personal challenge) who do their level headed best to push back against circumstances they did not create.
This is also not to say that there is no division within the rank and file. Those moments of “solidarity, however…” are some of the most moving moments in the show.
The Last Ship combines all of this to make a dynamic evening of theatre. If I refrain from calling out individual performances, please forgive me, but it just seems like a sacrilege for this show. The whole thing is not about individualism and competition – who gave a strong performance and who gave a weak one. The Last Ship is about taking collective action and trying to prevail against the odds even when they are stacked heavily against you.
Would that we all could book passage on the good ship Utopia and sail off to a better world and a brighter future for our planet. And by the way, as the old song by Curtis Mayfield puts it, in that la lucha final, “You don’t need no ticket, you just get on board!”