The Last Five Years

Jason Robert Brown's The Last 5 Years is one of those musicals whose fanbase has crept up despite seldom being treated to professional productions, but it deserves every fan it can get.In the form of a contemporary song-cycle, the story explores the five-year relationship between Jamie, a rising novelist, and Cathy, a struggling actress. Ingeniously the show tells Cathy's story in reverse chronological order, beginning with the end of the marriage, while Jamie’s story runs forward in time, beginning just after the couple have met. The actors only interact when their time lines briefly intersect in the middle of the show during the wedding.Playing with time lines is interesting way of telling a story, it also makes it difficult to present. (In much the same way as Merrily We Roll Along.) Previous incarnations of the show have struggled to balance the two stories, and it is very easy to leave the audience confused. This new production has such a clever set design from Ben Rogers that it seems the most natural thing in the world to tell the story in this manner.Effortlessly balancing simplicity and detail, the stage is split down the middle to present two identical halves of the apartment with a jagged cut breaking through the central desk, representing both the isolation the characters sing about and the painful, difficult break up they experience. I was particularly taken with the incorporation of five large picture frames on each side of the stage, giving a brilliant visual timeline to the audience of the relationship for both stories; one by one they go dark on Cathy's side whilst lighting up on Jamie's. Make no mistake: this is not a simple romantic story that goes wrong; it is a real presentation of a relationship with characters that are both flawed and sympathetic. Lauren Samuels excels as Cathy. Providing full and detailed characterisation throughout, she perfectly demonstrates the many facets of the character. At the beginning of the story she is utterly heart-wrenching with her crumpled body unable to deal with her heartbreak, but as her story develops she demonstrates a real flair for comedy, particularly during A Summer In Ohio. It is a note-perfect performance, in terms of both acting and singing. Her beautiful tone is at ease with the sensitive, intricate moments of the score, but she can belt too, with lungs of steel. I have to confess that my sympathies in the relationship definitely lay with Cathy as I was so utterly mesmerised by the performance; Christopher Pym is convincing, and sings his part well, but never quite reaches the same depth of characterisation.It is a shame, as so many other aspects of the production are thoroughly excellent. Musical Director Lee Freeman plays and conducts a very tight band who perform the wonderful score with a richness and sensitivity that make it one of the best accompaniments to a Fringe show I have ever heard.It is wonderfully refreshing to watch such a real, vivid portrayal of a relationship, however heartbreaking it may be amidst the fluffy hearts and trite Valentine messages of the season. The beautiful score and knock-out performance from Samuels are not to be missed. Get yourself to the Tabard before it sells out the rest of the run, but take your tissues with you!

Reviews by Damian Sandys

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The Blurb

In his personal and intimate musical, THE LAST FIVE YEARS, JASON ROBERT BROWN takes the conventions of musical theatre and sends them spinning into the 21st century. The contemporary story explores a five-year relationship between Jamie and Cathy a rising novelist, and a struggling actress, falling in and out of love. It is told from two angles: Cathy’s story travels backwards in time, from the end of their marriage to when they first met, and Jamie’s story traces the relationship from the beginning to its sad conclusion. The music combines classic Broadway with funk and rock, an emotional and often comical story that has won a loyal following around the world.

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