James Robert Brown’s musical was cut short at the Southwark Playhouse due to lockdown, but here it is staged in a variety of locations by The Other Palace for three live streamed performances.
The premise of the show can be confusing if you come to it cold: Cathy and Jamie sing separately for the bulk of The Last Five Years, with Cathy opening the show at the end of their marriage, Jamie following on from the rush of their first meeting.
Easy enough to stage in lockdown, it is a little disappointing in a way that it isn’t set up on stage, but with just one number uniting the two characters (dealt with by split screen), it is one of the obvious choices for when a kind of live performance returns.
I liked Lauren Samuels (who also directs) as Cathy a lot, watching her move from jaded disappointment through to girlish joy when she receives a text from Jamie. Her voice can easily handle the complexity of the songs, and we believe in her trajectory.
Danny Becker’s Jamie grows in stature and confidence, then falls into a state of disillusion, which comes across well, but the strident piano accompaniment feels a tad overpowering for such an intimate piece in quieter moments.
I cannot compare with the film version, as I have yet to see that, but I’m not quite convinced that this (more or less) sung-through musical works in this format. Audiences may need to settle into the timeline, and you inevitably lose any sense of character movement and space without a full stage being used.
The show is a clever one, though, and has an interesting back story: Brown based the story on the disintegration of his own marriage, and there were mutual lawsuits between him and his ex-wife about it.
The Last Five Years does have all the heartbreak and frustration of a failed union, as well as the first flowering of love and the hope of those “next ten minutes” together, and this is key to the success of this small-scale piece. Do take a look if you can
LouReviews purchased a ticket to see The Last Five Years.