The Last Ship marries Sting's back catalogue with political polemic (3 stars)

The Last Ship marries Sting's back catalogue with political polemic

credit: Pamela Raith

Agitprop musical with hits from Sting

With a smattering of Sting's hits, and a score written by the venerable singer-songwriter, The Last Ship shares a little with a jukebox musical production, but is more determined to pay tribute to the character of the local shipyards. Carried by its remarkable scenography – a mixture of tactically introduced video screens and a metallic framework that evokes the steel that built the yards and the men who worked there, it tells a triple story: of lost love redeemed, the desire to escape and the Conservative political machinations that eventually destroyed the industry.

The tough political polemic that frames the show is supported by a sentimental representation of the men themselves: when the foreman dies during the occupation of the yards, it's hard to miss the messianic symbolism, and the characters are frequently symbolic rather than deep: a union leader reciting Marxist analysis, the aggressive drunk who finally does the right thing, the carpenter who has enriched his life through poetry, a young woman who yearns for musical success.

While the threads are resolved in the finale, in which the last ship is launched in the face of state oppression, their respective moods don't mesh. The machismo of the shipyard men is unchallenged, the women are uncompromisingly supportive (except in a brief song at the start of the second half, itself an awkward reintroduction to the action, since the first half ended with the foreman's first collapse).

The repetition of certain songs extends the running time without deepening either the drama or the themes, but the folky melodies can be, by turns, charming and forceful: the political realism may clash with the easy resolution, and the pride of the narrator in the working-class men becomes cloying. An uncritical celebration of the power of the working-class, its own dialectic of toughness and emotionalism lacks a nuanced critique of the nature of the Tory attack on the area's industrial base, and its regionalism disguises the meandering of the second act.

The Last Ship Musical tours the UK in various locations until Sat 7 July

The Last Ship

Sailor Gideon Fletcher returns home from sea to discover the ship-building life he left behind in chaos in this new musical featuring an original score with musics and lyrics by Sting.

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