Monday, 21 November 2016

The last five years

This poignant tale charting a young couple’s love affair boasts strong performances from the two leads

Written by Richard Barber

Jason Robert brown’s bittersweet cult musical was first seen in Chicago in 2001, then off- broadway the following year, reaching London’s Menier in 2006. It was also a well-reviewed, though largely unsuccessful (in terms of box office) 2015 film. Richard-Barber-colour-176

Now The Last Five Years is to be found at the St James Theatre and it comes up crisp and fresh under Brown’s directorial baton. The story is a simple one given a crucial twist. We chart the love affair of two upwardly mobile New Yorkers, he an increasingly successful writer, she an actress whose career seems to have stalled in repertory in Ohio.

The twist is that we follow her story backwards from the point when the relationship has hit the buffers while we see his version unfolding sequentially from the moment they meet and fall in love. In a sung-through production (there is virtually no spoken dialogue), the characters of Cathy and Jamie take it in turns to sing alone on an almost bare stage, only coinciding halfway through the story when the two strands meet at the point of their marriage.

The only drawback of the structure is that we’re introduced to Cathy and her poignant opening number, still hurting, without yet having had the chance of emotionally investing in her dilemma. Jamie has a better time of it in that he can grow organically in front of our very eyes to the point where he becomes disillusioned with the relationship, his success (and his editor) proving seductive mistresses.

But nothing can take away from musical director Torquil Munro’s faultless six-piece orchestra or the superb performances of Jonathan Bailey and Samantha Barks. He’s perhaps best known from playing the cub reporter in TV’s Broadchurch but the wit and sheer acting skill he brings to this portrayal of an alpha male on the up will surely lead to greater things.

Samantha Barks was in the final of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s tV search for an actress to play Nancy in Oliver! and then went on to great success as Eponine in Les Mis on stage and film. She’ll make you laugh via her stop-start audition song, Climbing Uphill, and cry at the silly smile on her face as she falls in love on I’m A Part Of that.

In truth, she probably has the stronger of the two voices although both actors were occasionally guilty of shouting rather than singing (first night nerves?). That said, highly recommended.

Until 3 December at the St James Theatre, Palace Street, London SW1: 0844-264 2140, 

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