Thursday 5 March 2020

The Last Five Years - Review

Southwark Playhouse, London


Music, lyrics and book by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Jonathan O'Boyle

Molly Lynch

In one of the show’s finest versions in recent years, Jonathan O’Boyle’s take on The Last Five Years makes for an evening of simply exquisite musical theatre in what has to be a definitive production of this complex and unusual work.

The narrative is simple but mind bending - Jason Robert Brown, the show’s creator projects a doomed five-year romance from two conflicting timelines. Jamie’s arc follows a natural timeline from first date right up to closing down the couple’s shared bank account. Cathy, by contrast, is introduced to us picking up the pieces of her shattered marriage and from there Brown plays with his audience. Cathy sings her life in reverse, ending on the excruciatingly painful number – to us at least - of her delirious joy following her first date with Jamie.

Oli Higginson

With its complex conceits, the show is not everyone’s cup of tea and indeed has yet to enjoy a run on Broadway. But at the Southwark Playhouse, O’Boyle much like an alchemist, fuses an array of brilliant base elements into a truly splendid show.

A grand piano sits on a revolve as the two performers Molly Lynch and Oli Higginson deliver the piece. The actors not only both play the instrument (and Lynch the ukulele and Higginson the guitar too) but dance upon and around the piano too. The magnificent Yamaha also proves a deceptively common denominator to the audience, cruelly appearing to unite these two out-of-lovers, when in reality there arms are only linked to perform some neatly arranged 4-handed interpretations of Brown’s slickly intuitive melodies.

Lynch’s performing skills have long been held in awe by this website and for a woman whose name sets ridiculously high levels of anticipation even before the curtain goes up, at the Southwark Playhouse she exceeds those expectations by a country mile. Capturing both passion and pathos, Lynch stuns us with her belt in A Summer In Ohio, yet breaks our hearts at both the show’s open and closing moments, as she so convincingly plays a woman who has either either seen, or is destined to see, love crumble and slip through her fingers. Elegant in white, Lynch is every inch the young out-of-towner transformed into a sassy yet vulnerable Manhattanite.

Barely graduated from the Guildhall School Of Music And Drama, Higginson displays a maturity beyond his years in his inhabiting of Jewish Jamie’s crotch-driven persona. As Jamie’s deceit becomes apparent one is left wondering if the man is ever capable of sincere love, with Higginson capturing not only his passion and lies, but also that complex puppy-like charm that endears him to the audience in the show’s early numbers, but which starts to evaporate as soon as the wedding band is around his finger.

The range of musical styles that Brown has included within the 90minute one-act delight are a treat for all. This is not a show bogged down in introspective balladry, but rather a feast of melodies that range from rock and blues through to klezmer and with as much a sprinkling of humour as well as tragedy thrown in too. Complementing the two on-stage pianists, above the proceedings George Dyer, who has also orchestrated this revival, leads his 4 piece band immaculately.

O’Boyle’s direction is ingenious and economic. With both players on stage for almost the entire piece, every glance and nuance is perfectly posed to reflect their realtime non-interaction with each other, save for the show’s centrepiece, The Next Ten Minutes, that sees the pair marry in Central Park.

Lee Newby’s simple striking set is elegant and underplayed – slick and jazzy with a marquee of "L5Y" as a backdrop, but which seems to soften in the productions more melancholy moments. Likewise, Jamie Platt’s lighting plots are equally and as imaginatively, effective.

This take on The Last Five Years is one of the most gorgeously presented pieces of musical theatre to be found in London right now. Actors and creatives at the very top of their game, it is unmissable!

Runs until 28th March
Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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