“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.
“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.