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Heritage, home and heredity: performing English cultural identity in 'The Last Ship'

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This article considers the performance of English cultural identity through a reading of Sting's semi-autobiographical musical, The Last Ship, seen on Broadway in 2014. Drawing on historical concepts of English identity and studies of regional social identity in Wallsend - the north-east English town where The Last Ship is set, I suggest that the musical presents an English identity that is uneasy with its present, and a songwriter uneasy with his past. Specifically, I consider the three iterations of the title song, considering the intrinsic relationship between myth and material environment. First, in a sermon by the local parish priest, Jim O'Brien, 'the last ship' offers a metaphor that locates the northern shipbuilding industry as a global bastion of British heritage. In a version by shipyard foreman Jackie White, the display of quixotism evidences a parochialism and localism that configures a specific version of 'home' and community-one which did not find resonance with a Broadway audience. Finally, the third iteration is read as a performance of heredity and familial reconciliation, the song of a writer - and a nation - at sea, struggling to find harbour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-241
Number of pages15
JournalStudies in Musical Theatre
Volume10
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016

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