Review: The Last Five Years, Tabard Theatre, Friday 11 February 2011

Originally written for The Public Reviews.

As small-scale musicals go, Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years is about as intimate as they come. In the tiny space of the Tabard Theatre, the audience are placed as flies on the wall of the five year relationship between successful writer Jamie and struggling actress Cathy, invited into the joys and sorrows of their shared lives. In a unique twist, the couple’s story is told both forwards and backwards; Cathy opens the show at the end of their marriage, her side of the story unfurling in reverse chronology, while Jamie starts at the beginning.

The eighty minutes of this production fly by as we are swept up in the utterly believable drama of Cathy and Jamie’s relationship. Brown has written two characters who are astoundingly and refreshingly ordinary, laying bare the sometimes beautiful and often ugly relationship of two flawed individuals. This is no idealised, hearts and flowers romance. His lyrics flit masterfully between the poetic and the mundane; the characters sing about leaving the toilet seat up or losing weight. There are no truly show-stopping numbers here, but the honest simplicity of the songs is fitting to a show that is moulded entirely around the emotional lives of two people.

The varied score and witty lyrics exploit Lauren Samuels’ full potential, as she belts out flawless high notes and charms with her quirky comic touches, breathing life into Cathy before our eyes. So luminous is Samuels’ performance that she leaves Christopher Pym’s Jamie somewhat in the shadow, despite his best efforts. He brings an overflowing, effervescent excitement to Jamie in the early scenes of their romance but struggles to convey with equal commitment the poignancy of the relationship’s breakdown; while Samuels paints a moving visual portrait of a broken, anguished woman, Pym struggles to achieve the same emotional engagement. Neither can he quite compete with Samuels vocally, with the few cracks in his voice occasionally emerging as the show progresses.

As they move in different directions, Cathy and Jamie never meet except at their wedding, the central hinge of the story. By keeping them apart for the majority of the show, isolated in their own halves of the small stage, the distance between them is emphasised; perhaps, one feels by the end, their relationship failed because they were always two separate parts rather than a unified whole. This is visually mirrored by Ben M Rogers’ beautifully simple set of two identical spaces split down the middle, physically dividing the couple. The ingenious incorporation of video screens showing photographs of the pair provides a timeline for their relationship, as they one by one go dark on Cathy’s side and light up on Jamie’s.

The beauty of Brown’s storytelling device is that it lends a heartbreaking sense of inevitability to the early stages of Jamie’s story, while simultaneously managing to conclude the musical with a wistful shred of hope as Cathy, back in the first bloom of their romance, waves ‘goodbye until tomorrow’. By turns poignant, moving and laugh-out-loud funny, The Last Five Years is a delight of a musical that sings straight from the heart.

One Response to “Review: The Last Five Years, Tabard Theatre, Friday 11 February 2011”
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  1. […] colourful and cheery You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and an effectively simple production of The Last Five Years, both at the Tabard Theatre. Who said size […]

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