Review: The Last Five Years, Other Palace (online)

Earlier this year musical The Last Five Years was in the midst of a successful stint at the Southwark Playhouse before the run was sadly cut short due to the Covid-19 lockdown. Thankfully Lambert Jackson Productions has come to the rescue for anyone who missed out (including yours truly) and those who’ve never seen the show before by hosting a new online production of the hit musical, which has been filmed in lockdown.

Written by Jason Robert Brown and based on his own marriage, The Last Five Years tells the story of two people, Jamie and Cathy (played by Danny Becker and Lauren Samuels, who also directs) who fall in and out of love over the course of five years. Danny’s story runs chronologically, beginning from just after the couple first meet; while Cathy’s runs in reverse, starting at the breakdown of their relationship; with their stories intersecting in the middle at their wedding.

While on paper a musical filmed in isolation doesn’t necessarily seem as though it would work, The Last Five Years is in fact perfect as an online production. With the exception of their wedding the characters don’t interact and instead the musical comprises a number of alternating solos as Cathy and Jamie lead the audience on a journey through their relationship, Jamie’s flourishing literary career and Cathy’s struggles as an actor. If anything this production feels even more relevant in these strange times, and anyone who’s missing someone while in lockdown is sure to resonate with the characters.

Lauren Samuels does a sterling job with her directorial debut and her direction, combined with clever editing and digital effects (the use of a split screen for the wedding scene, fading between characters at more poignant moments, text messages appearing on screen) makes you forget that the actors are in completely different locations. And despite lockdown constraints, both actors also do a commendable job with their costumes and staging, with Becker even producing a Christmas tree when the script calls for it.

While the soundtrack isn’t entirely memorable, there are some beautiful songs in the show, including the touching ‘Still Hurting’ and ‘Nobody Needs to Know’, and they’re brought to life brilliantly by the duo, accompanied by piano throughout. Though there are one or two moments of tinny sound, overall they’re minor and the performances more than make up for this. Danny Becker puts in an energetic performance and is instantly likeable as Jamie, and his vocals are top notch. His enthusiasm is infectious as he takes on the more upbeat numbers ‘Shiksa Goddess’ and ‘Moving Too Fast’, and his character really grows as the musical progresses and Cathy and Jamie’s relationship becomes strained. Lauren Samuels is exquisite as Cathy and it’s a joy to watch her journey back from a heartbroken wife to an excitable woman in love and full of hope. Samuels originally played Cathy in the Chiswick Playhouse production in 2011 and it’s clear she knows the character inside out; she delivers each line of every song perfectly and with the right dose of humour and heartache. Her performance of Summer in Ohio is one of the highlights and really showcases Samuels’ vocal strengths, while ‘Still Hurting’ is a memorable heartbreaking moment.

With theatres still closed for the time being, audiences are having to look online for their theatrical fix, and The Last Five Years certainly doesn’t disappoint. An intimate and creative production with two standout performances at its heart, this is an inventive and heartbreaking musical, and hopefully the start of something new as we wait for our beloved theatres to reopen.

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