After its run was cut short in March – for reasons none of us need reminding of – Jason Robert Brown’s beloved musical The Last Five Years is back at Southwark Playhouse complete with Perspex barriers between seats and a face-masked audience. Even so, what a return it is, writes Rosie O’Connell…
Struggling actress Cathy opens the show with Still Hurting, evoking all the pain and anger of the breakdown of her five year relationship with Jamie, which she goes on to tell in reverse chronological order, from end to beginning.
With each song alternating between them Jamie tells his side of the story from start to finish, moving forward in time. Though failing to see eye to eye throughout their retellings, it is fitting, then, that the pair barely meet at all and struggle to stay on the same page.
Jamie Platt’s lighting of melancholy blues and warm oranges gently guide the audience through the conflicting narrative, while Lee Newby’s simple staging comprised of a piano at the centre of a revolve, gives the piece a moody, chic cocktail bar vibe.
Jonathan O’Boyle’s direction has both performers on stage through the whole 90 minute run time as they accompany each other on the piano throughout, allowing their characters to interject emotion into the other’s melodies until they finally come together in the middle of the piece for The Next Ten Minutes.
Molly Lynch and Oli Higginson are full of charisma and are truly exceptional as the ill-fated couple.
Higginson is energetic and intense as Jamie, excelling in his punchier numbers (Shiksa Goddess and Moving Too Fast being particularly memorable), and when moving from aspiring storyteller in the big city who can hardly believe his luck to the unbearably swaggering, arrogant acclaimed novelist – his book reading being particularly cringe-worthy.
Lynch draws out Cathy’s utterly endearing, self-deprecating humour and increasing uncertainty with impeccable comic timing and pitch perfect vocals, with A Summer in Ohio being an absolute highlight.
Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You is quietly heart-breaking. Surrounded by the debris of their relationship, Jamie seems almost genuinely remorseful for his part in the collapse of their marriage while Cathy is back at the beginning, full of excitement and giddy promise of what is to come for them but, as the audience knows all too well, she is grasping for something that’s already broken.
It is bittersweet and honest and well worth beg, borrowing or stealing a ticket for before its return run ends.
Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, SE1 6BD until 14th November. Times: Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm; Tuesday and Saturday matinees at 3pm. Admission: £27.50 (£22 conc.), All previews £16. Phone: 020 7407 0234.
The show was recorded with a multi-camera set-up and will be available to watch globally to an unlimited audience on 26 and 27 November at 7.30pm, 28 November at 2.30pm and 7.30pm and 29 November at 5pm.
£15 per household – More info and booking at www.stream.theatre
Images: Pamela Raith Photography