Tag Archives: Adam Fisher

The Last Five Years

★★★★

Southwark Playhouse

The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 5th March 2020

★★★★

 

“Oli Higginson as Jamie and Molly Lynch as Cathy are both outstanding: in their interpretation of the characters and musicianship”

 

On the surface, “The Last Five Years” has a kind of ‘Whovian’ concept at its heart, twisting the perspective of time. Two lovers, Jamie and Cathy, travel through five years of their relationship; he is moving forward while she proceeds in reverse. They meet in the middle, fleetingly, on their wedding day. Beneath the surface, though, is a very human story that deals with, not the time-warp perspectives, but the emotional perspectives of the two characters. It’s a device that gives you insider knowledge from the start (or the end) which simultaneously sheds light on the affair, but also pushes our emotional connection to their story into the shadows.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle has introduced a third character to the narrative: the baby grand piano that takes centre stage, around which Jamie and Cathy circle, powerless against its gravitational pull. Writer-composer Jason Robert Brown might have pulled off a neat trick with the dramatic concept, but O’Boyle’s decision to have the pair accompany one another’s songs on piano is inspired, and adds a much-needed dimension to what are essentially monologues in song. Songs which are nevertheless beautifully crafted by Brown, with a range of styles yet connected with common threads and leitmotifs.

Oli Higginson as Jamie and Molly Lynch as Cathy are both outstanding: in their interpretation of the characters and musicianship; using the piano as an emotional relay, often passing the baton between the bars of a tune. The opening “Still Hurting” shows off Lynch’s soaring and searing vocals in a heart-wrenching moment of resigned pain, while Higginson’s optimistic belt of “Moving Too Fast” encapsulates Jamie’s joyful optimism. Ninety minutes later Higginson beautifully mourns the ending of their story in “Nobody Needs to Know” while Lynch has usurped his dreams for the buoyant “I Can Do Better Than That”. In between, the pitch shifts are perfect as they advance and retreat along their own paths.

Which is the crux. Despite their onstage physical proximity, there is a detachment that leaves us slightly cold, which is entirely caused by the concept of the piece. It is quite easy to forget the characters are occupying different spaces and times, so it often feels that we are merely witnessing a couple who just aren’t suited to each other at all. He’s looking forward, she’s looking back, and their self-centredness strips us of sympathy. It is only when you make a conscious effort to return to the theme that you reconnect.

But the performers consistently manage to sweep this minor distraction away with the vivid brush strokes of their charisma and talent. Backed by the sheer energy of Musical Director, George Dyer, and the five-piece band, the music has us spellbound; even when the emotional magic doesn’t quite strike a chord.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith

 

The Last Five Years

Southwark Playhouse until 28th March

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Afterglow | ★★★½ | June 2019
Fiver | ★★★★ | July 2019
Dogfight | ★★★★ | August 2019
Once On This Island | ★★★ | August 2019
Preludes | ★★★★ | September 2019
Islander | ★★★★★ | October 2019
Superstar | ★★★★ | November 2019
Potted Panto | ★★★★ | December 2019
Cops | ★★★ | January 2020
You Stupid Darkness! | ★★★ | January 2020

 

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The View Upstairs
★★★

Soho Theatre

The View Upstairs

The View Upstairs

Soho Theatre

Reviewed – 25th July 2019

★★★

 

“It does all become a touch stereo-typed, and the crying scenes lead too predictably into the love scenes”

 

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York; widely considered to be the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights. We have come a long way as a society since then, but Max Vernon argues in the musical “The View Upstairs” that we still have a long way to go. He spearheads his argument by sending the central character Wes (Tyrone Huntley) back in time to 1973, overlapping past and present. We are reminded of the television series, ‘Life on Mars’ as Vernon’s script makes frequent use of jokes and dramatic irony about a future that the audience already knows, but which the characters of 1973 do not.

Sometimes the device works too well, and we are left with an overpowering sense of nostalgia for the past that conflicts with the intended message of the piece. Wes, a present-day fashion designer, is buying a burnt out building in New Orleans and, for reasons that are not remotely touched upon, he is transported back in time and he finds himself in the Upstairs Lounge; a real-life gay bar that was the target of a homophobic arson attack that took the lives of thirty-two people – the deadliest attack in the U.S. until the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, but one which was ignored by the wider American media and public.

The musical is a celebration of the regulars of the bar – a disparate band of odd folk sharing drinks and wisecracks in a kind of queer ‘Cheers’. Lee Newby’s lavishly ramshackle set evokes perfectly the time and territory we are in. As does Vernon’s score which is snappy and uplifting and, although not exactly memorable, stirs memories within ourselves. Presiding over the bar is John Partridge’s ‘Buddy’, the resident pianist who becomes ‘straight’ whenever he goes home to his wife and kids. Partridge cleverly conveys the mixture of resentment, embarrassment and liberation of the closet gay of that time. Other stand-outs are Garry Lee’s Freddy; burly builder by day and drag queen by night, and his biggest fan – his mother (a very watchable Victoria Hamilton-Barritt). Love interest Patrick, played by Andy Mientus, gives Huntley’s Wes a run for his money, while Declan Bennett’s bitter Dale injects a much-needed dose of menace. It does all become a touch stereo-typed, and the crying scenes lead too predictably into the love scenes. But we are eventually shaken out of any sense of complacency towards the final scenes, especially if you don’t know all the historical facts beforehand.

But what carries the show are the performances. A lot of numbers are packed into this one act musical but the energy and vocal agility of all the cast provide the spark that sets this piece ablaze, despite the dampening effects of some over-familiar moralising.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Darren Bell

 


The View Upstairs

Soho Theatre until 24th August

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
No Show | ★★★★ | January 2019
Garrett Millerick: Sunflower | ★★★★ | February 2019
Soft Animals | ★★★★ | February 2019
Angry Alan | ★★★★ | March 2019
Mouthpiece | ★★★ | April 2019
Tumulus | ★★★★ | April 2019
William Andrews: Willy | ★★★★★ | April 2019
Does My Bomb Look Big In This? | ★★★★ | May 2019
Hotter | ★★★★★ | May 2019
Citysong | ★★★★ | June 2019

 

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