Inspired by Sting’s childhood experience, his powerful and political musical The Last Ship is currently travelling the UK and docks in Salford on its final stop on the tour.
With breathtaking design, poignant music and captivating characters, it is an astounding piece of British musical theatre. Set in the 80s, the show tells the story of community and defiance. When the Tyneside shipyard is threatened with closure, the town unites to fight back.
“I think those themes of the loss of work, loss of identity are still with us today. What happened in the 80s is still ongoing, people need work and work defines us, this play is a very emotional vocation of that idea. People get very wound up in the emotion of it,” Sting explained. “It sounds like a very sad topic but there is a very enchanting love story within it. The audience laugh, they cry, it is a really beautiful piece of theatre.”
Sting’s inspiration for the musical came from his own childhood experiences growing up. “I was born within spitting distance of a shipyard on Tyneside, my family worked there, I didn’t want to work there but it was an amazing surreal industrial environment to grow up in, which I wanted to escape from of course,” he said. “In hindsight, I realised it was a gift as an artist to deal with something so symbolic and so huge. It had an effect on my creative life and I have been needing to tell this story for many years, I am so lucky to have done it and to bring it to the North of England.”
After running on Broadway, this is the first time the show has been on British soil. Sting explained how there is a different emphasis on the production than what it was on Broadway, and it is much more political.
“I think it had to be because the social-political context needed to be much more defined,” Sting said. “It is quite radical and very left-wing, I am not sure they would have understood that on Broadway but we are taking it back to New York next year with the same political slant it has now, I prefer it this way.”
As a hugely successful singer-songwriter, this was Sting’s first experience writing a musical and he has taken the industry by storm. “For me it has been the most challenging, the most difficult, the most absorbing and the most enjoyable experience of my entire life,” he said.
“I have been working on this for 7 years with triumphs, with failures and dealing with all kinds of different people – actors, directors, producers, designers. It is like a ship, there are so many moving parts and if one thing goes wrong, everything collapses. It has been utterly fascinating and I have not one regret in my entire experience.”
Clearly a natural in writing heart-aching, joyous and moving songs that all intertwine to create the stunning score, I asked him whether he’d ever write another musical. “I can’t think of another subject I’d have such a personal connection to, but as songwriters we are storytellers and sometimes you can make a musical out of a song. It’s the narrative storytelling that I enjoy so maybe, but this story is very personal to me.”
Will the show ever grace the West End stage? Sting revealed he is thinking about it, but was really passionate about bringing the show to the North of England first because of the resonant themes in the show.
The Last Ship is on at the Lowry in Salford from the 3rd to the 7th of July, tickets and information can be found here.
Photo Credit: Mark Savage for Northern Stage