Review: The Last Ship, Neil Simon Theatre

“And when you become a woman of a certain age

You’ll find it’s difficult to trust a man” 

The signs for The Last Ship were not good even before I boarded – Sting stepping into a key role to shore up ticket sales over Christmas – and just days after I saw it, the producers decided to cut their losses and it posted closing notices for the end of the month. Indeed, this review comes too late to even persuade a last few people to visit as Saturday saw the final performance. And whilst I’d love to be able to say that it is a huge loss to the Broadway stage, to me it really didn’t feel like the complete package.

First things first – Sting’s score is genuinely excellent, binding together influences like Celtic folk and sea shanties to the more standard driving anthems and heartfelt balladry that one might expect from a big musical. Real emotion and a strong sense of character come flooding out of songs like ‘Autumn Winds’, the title song and ‘If You Ever See Me Talking To A Sailor’ and it is little surprise that the soundtrack made a strong concept album when released in 2013.

The issue lies mainly in John Logan and Brian Yorkey’s book around said score. Based loosely on Sting’s own childhood in the North-East of England, there’s a compelling story around industrial decline, working-class decency and enduring love that has formed the backdrop of many a Brit-flick. But so much of the narrative potential remains unexplored – the all-important shipyard is condemned even before we start, the contentious politics of industrial closures are barely scratched, the crucial element of dramatic tension just missing.

The cast do well with what they’ve got. Rachel Tucker and Michael Esper give good romance-face as the long-separated couple, it was fun to spot Sally Ann Triplett in there alongside Sting’s grizzled foreman and it was especially lush to find Aaron Lazar in the company too. When they’re all working together with Steven Hoggett’s inimitable movement and Sting’s rousing choruses, The Last Ship is a stirring affair but Joe Mantello’s production has too few of these moments which in turn makes it clear why it has sailed its last voyage for now. But with some reworking, it isn’t too hard to see it resurfacing on this side of the Atlantic.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Joan Marcus
Booking until 24th January

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