Jonathan O’Boyle’s production is a wonderfully poignant and intimate experience, with detailed performances from both Oli Higginson and Molly Lynch.
Having had a successful and popular run at the Southwark Playhouse last year, Jonathan O’Boyle’s haunting and poignant production makes its glorious debut in the West End – highlighting the uniqueness of Jason Robert Brown’s musical with great respect.
The Last Five Years follows the journey of the relationship between Jamie and Cathy – but while Jamie tells their story from beginning to end, Cathy tells it from end to beginning, heightening the sense of bittersweetness to the story that really keeps the audience emotionally engaged with the story. Throughout each song, neither character really engages with each other, allowing it to have a very introspective feel and allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions as to whether Jamie and Cathy were meant to be together but their own dreams and ambitions caused them to drift apart.
While some may find the fact that the characters are quite disconnected from each other (which is something that is rarely seen in a musical on a West End stage) as a bit of a struggle to get used to, it actually allows us to get to know the characters well as individuals as well as together from each other’s point of view – adding extra depth.
This is something that director Jonathan O’Boyle is really able to get to the heart of in this wonderfully understated production that highlights just how powerful and important Jason Robert Brown’s music is in conveying this relationship. With Lee Newby’s set design comprised of a revolving piano and enormous carnival letter lights in the background, it is a wonderfully simple and stylish way to show that all the focus is centred on Cathy and Jamie telling their story – and ensuring that the music is right at the centre of it by having them each taking it turns to play on it. Jamie Platt’s gorgeously soft and haunting lighting design actually enhances the signs of the cracks in the relationship from the very start particularly during ‘Still Hurting’ and towards the end during ‘Nobody Needs to Know’.
It is also not a production that flinches away from the fact that both characters are deeply flawed and fail to take into consideration each other’s needs, making it feel very a very real relationship. The strongest songs in the show are really reflective and honest – such as ‘If I Didn’t Believe in You’ and ‘Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You’.
At the very core of this production is two strong and detailed performances from Oli Higginson and Molly Lynch who clearly understand Jamie and Cathy well. Higginson offers real swagger and self confidence to Jamie as seen through his rendition of ‘Shiksa Goddess’ – yet you still get a sense of vulnerability that while doesn’t completely redeem his character at least allows the audience to feel that he is deeply conflicted. In contrast, Molly Lynch while offering a delicacy to her character also shows how the character develops an inner strength during the course of the relationship as seen through ‘See I’m Smiling’. But my favourite moment for both performers is their rendition of ‘The Next 10 Minutes’ that is filled with hope, joy and romance – a beautiful performance.
The Last Five Years is a deep and moving show that is realised in a simple but stylish way that is easy to enjoy.
By Emma Clarendon