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The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years

★★★★★

Southwark Playhouse

The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 5th October 2020

★★★★★

 

“the relish with which these two outstanding performers reprise their roles is a joy to witness.”

 

It seems an age ago now but back in March, when the New York Governor ordered Broadway’s theatres to close as the coronavirus pandemic spread through the city, there was still the feeling in London that ‘it won’t happen to us’. But lo and behold, four days later, the Prime Minister’s statement ensured our theatres followed suit. The mass exodus of London’s West End and the fringe left an eerie silence that filled the playhouses, as they started to gather dust. Many, like Southwark Playhouse, remained frozen in time; the empty music stands, props on the stage floor and, lit only by the ghost light; the centre-piece grand piano, silent on the now-motionless revolve. Waiting.

The waiting was longer than we initially thought, but seven months later to the day, and leading the way in the reopening of our theatres, Katy Lipson (in association with Edward Prophet and People Entertainment Group) kicks off where we left off with Jason Robert Brown’s powerful two-hander, “The Last Five Years”. Despite the plexiglass and socially distant seating, as the first notes fill the auditorium it feels like the intervening months never really happened. In tune with the time-twisting concept of the piece the audience are transported back to March of this year into an alternative existence wherein this nightmare may never have happened. The energy of Oli Higginson and Molly Lynch is undimmed and the relish with which these two outstanding performers reprise their roles is a joy to witness. They tell us the story, through song, of two lovers, Jamie and Cathy, as they 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.

It is a clever device that gives us insider knowledge. We know how it is going to end right from the start and are free to concentrate on the journey each character makes. The downside is the inevitable predictability, but the focus is on Brown’s compositions; all beautifully crafted, with a range of styles; yet connected with common threads and leitmotifs. And director Jonathan O’Boyle has introduced a third character to the narrative: the grand piano that takes centre stage, around which Jamie and Cathy circle, powerless against its gravitational pull. Matching Higginson’s and Lynch’s faultless interpretation of the characters is their 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 the two advance and retreat along their own paths. Ironically, that is the show’s one minor flaw. It is easy to forget, when the actors are sometimes only inches apart, that they are years apart in the narrative. 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 this unintentional self-centredness occasionally leaves us cold. It is only when you make a conscious effort to return to the theme that you reconnect.

Yet the performances consistently manage to sweep this slight distraction away with their charisma and talent. Backed by the sheer energy of Musical Director, George Dyer, and the five-piece band, we are spellbound, and our belief in the magic of musical theatre is unquestionably reaffirmed.

 

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith

 

The Last Five Years

Southwark Playhouse until 14th November

 

Previously 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

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

C-O-N-T-A-C-T

★★★★

Various London Locations

C-o-n-t-a-c-t

C-O-N-T-A-C-T

London – Central

(Various London locations are available)

Reviewed – 4th September 2020

★★★★

 

“feels creatively alive, tender and hopeful; it leaves a lasting artistic shimmer and sprinkles a touch of magic”

 

C-o-n-t-a-c-t is an outdoor immersive promenade production, that takes place on the edge of the river, five minutes from Monument tube (other locations are available). Plugged into headphones, through a previously downloaded app (all very simple, and efficiently handled by the facilitator, who we meet 10 minutes before the production begins), the audience hears the thoughts and conversation of the two characters, one of whom we are instructed to follow.

The concept is a simple one, and reminiscent of Wim Wenders’ masterwork Wings of Desire: a guardian angel is on earth in human form, and he has appeared in order to help a young, lost and grieving woman get over the death of her father. Written by Eric Chantelauze, it is a delicate 50 minute reflection on grief. In Quentin Bruno’s English adaptation, the writing is predominantly colloquial and straightforward, with occasional excursions into a slightly more meditative realm, and for the most part works well, though an unfortunate last minute detour into Latin does feel hackneyed and unnecessary. Max Gold, as the angel Raphael, fails to convince in this instance, and the grandeur of the language reduces, rather than enhances, his angelic aura.

This was a rare jarring moment however. Samuel Sené (director and creator of the original production, along with Gabrielle Jourdain) has put some lovely subtle movement sequences in place within the characters’ walk together, and there are many moments of gentle beauty, particularly in Laura White’s performance as Sarah, which seamlessly embodies Aoife Kennan’s spoken narrative. The atmosphere is also hugely enhanced by Cyril Barbessol’s contemplative, melodic piano, which is a continuous musical thread throughout the piece, and works brilliantly under a London sky and against the grand, ceaseless flow of the Thames.

In these strange and pretty desperate times for live theatre, C-o-n-t-a-c-t feels creatively alive, tender and hopeful; it leaves a lasting artistic shimmer and sprinkles a touch of magic on a September evening. Highly recommended.

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Pamela Raith

 


C-O-N-T-A-C-T

Various London locations until 4th October see www.contactshow.co.uk for full details

 

Previously reviewed this year by Rebecca:
Dadderrs | ★★★ | The Yard Theatre | January 2020
In A Way So Brutal | ★★★★ | The Yard Theatre | January 2020
Santi & Naz | ★★★ | The Vaults | January 2020
The Maids | | Hen & Chickens Theatre | January 2020
Tom Brown’s Schooldays | ★★ | Union Theatre | January 2020
Ghost Stories | ★★★ | Theatre Royal Brighton | February 2020
Since U Been Gone | ★★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
The Fourth Country | ★★★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
The Tin Drum | ★★★★ | The Coronet Theatre | February 2020
Henry V | ★★★★ | The Barn Theatre | March 2020
Superman | ★★★½ | The Vaults | March 2020
Fanny & Stella | ★★★★ | The Garden Theatre | August 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews