The plight of British laborers dealing with the changing economic world in the 1980s has been a major plot element in a number of successful musicals. From the redundant steel workers of The Full Monty to the striking coal miners of Billy Elliot, the issue of (mostly) men dealing with job elimination often took a backseat to more “feel good” plot points, be it a group of men doing a striptease act or a boy wanting to learn ballet.
The Last Ship, playing at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre through March 22, ups the labor quotient to about 50 percent, with the other half a traditional romance. The show, with music and lyrics by Sting, debuted on Broadway in 2014 and lasted only three months. Now it’s been revamped with a new book by director Lorne Campbell and Sting acting in eight shows a week.
It’s the Thatcher era and the employees of a Northern England shipyard have been told that the ship currently being built will not be finished and most of the workers will be let go. Those who are asked to return to scrap the ship will do so at a significantly lower wage. This doesn’t sit well with union leader Jackie White (Sting) who’s trying to figure a way out while dealing with some (ahem) “health issues.”
Meanwhile, Gideon Fletcher (Oliver Savile), who abandoned his girlfriend Meg Dawson (Frances McNamee) 17 years earlier, has returned and Meg is none too pleased to see him, at least until the finale.
The show is obviously a labor of love for Sting, but the incongruity of the two storylines is just the first of many obstacles that prevent this show from setting sail. The storylines never really gel as the show clunkily moves from one to the other before they awkwardly merge at the end. Thick accents make dialogue often incomprehensible, and musically the show is all over the map. Sometimes the music soars and sometimes it just lays there.
The cast does what it can and occasionally brings a third dimension to two-dimensional characters. McNamee comes off best and while Sting—who was upstaged by his codpiece in David Lynch’s Dune—does his best to not upstage his castmates, come on, it’s Sting.
But if Sting wasn’t in the show, would there be a compelling reason to see it? With Sting in the show, is there a compelling reason to see it?
My answers are the same.