‘The Last Five Years’ review CANCELLED

Theatre, Musicals
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
The Last Five Years, Southwark Playhouse, 2020
Photograph: PAMELA RAITH

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Sprightly staging of Jason Robert Brown’s clever musical about a crumbling relationship

‘The Last Five Years’ is cancelled due to Covid-19

This staging of American writer-composer Jason Robert Brown’s musical romcom has charm to spare, and it comes to Southwark Playhouse with assured direction by Jonathan O’Boyle.

‘The Last Five Years’, which has gained a host of diehard fans and a 2014 movie version since it debuted in 2001, tells the story of a marriage break-up in opposing chronological directions. We meet struggling actress Cathy at the end, hurt and angry, before watching her soon-to-be successful novelist husband Jamie in love’s first flush. Their timelines briefly intersect at their wedding.

While the characters share a stage, their scenes mostly run side by side, so we get a dual perspective. It’s a neat approach, one that adds a fresh lick of dramatic paint to the often-staged story of how two people in a relationship can end up on painfully different pages. It’s jerry-rigged for poignancy.

Brown’s score is a quicksilver delight, ranging from ballads to tango and buoyed by dextrously funny lyrics. It’s a perfect match for the show’s constantly turning – literally here, with a revolving stage – portrait of the intoxicating, mercurial nature of love. O’Boyle uses the piano played in turn by Molly Lynch’s Cathy and Oli Higginson’s Jamie as a touchstone. Musical director George Dyer ensures the score is a third character, always dancing around the edges.

It’s hard to escape the feeling that, as written, Jamie gets an easier ride. ‘The Last Five Years’ focuses more on Cathy’s insecurities (over her childhood, her career and her husband’s success) than his fault lines. An affair in the dying days of their marriage is largely painted (and scored) as the tragedy of the trapped man. Luckily, in a show this restlessly inventive, that’s not the entire scope.

Lynch and Higginson are also the reason why this bias doesn’t feel glaring. From their comic timing, to their singing, to their shading of their characters, they hold the stage. Higginson gives us flashes of celebrity-fuelled narcissism in Jamie’s breathless ‘you can do anything’ attitude; Lynch breaks Cathy out of the lovelorn bracket she threatens to be stuck in – her grimly determined performance of ‘Climbing Uphill/Audition Sequence’ is a comedy delight.

By: Tom Wicker

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