The Last Five Years tells the story of Jamie (an aspiring author) and Cathy (a struggling actress), two New Yorkers in their twenties who fall in and out of love over the course of five years. Known for its unique structure, we see their stories told in opposite directions; Jamie moving forwards and Cathy backwards through their relationship, meeting only briefly for a moment in time as their stories cross.
This is the best musical production I think I have ever seen? It really changed the way I think about performance in musicals: that you don’t need a huge ensemble to make an impact.
There were just two actors in the show, with it nearly always being only one of them on-stage at any time. That being said, they both gave incredible performances, acting to an ‘invisible’ person instead, plus breaking the fourth wall and using the audience to represent the other character by making eye-contact and singing at individuals. Not something you really see in musical theatre, but I think that was why I loved it so much. It felt so intimate and real. (Yes, even despite the fact they were singing.)
The singing performances were also truly outstanding. Samantha Barks, who played Cathy, gave me goosebumps in the first song – wow, she can really sing! Jonathan Bailey truly blew me away, and completely changed my point of view of Jamie. I previously kind of hated his character (thanks to the movie and listening to the songs), but his representation of Jamie helped me to see the caring side to him, and not just his ego. Jonathan’s Jamie was charming, funny, goofy and energetic, which I realised was how it should be performed. (And I mean Jason Robert Brown (the writer of the musical) directed this production so it had to be, right?)
But it was the small details to the performance that made it stand out for me. The staging and lighting was great: sometimes it seemed to move the characters around the stage, rather than usually following the actors. I particularly liked when Jamie was jumping into different squares of light, as though he was being pushed into making decisions in his life. The detail of the warm lighting in scenes of the past against the cold lighting towards the end of their relationship too was beautiful. Gah, so clever!
Plus, the detail of the costume made me so happy: changing with the time and the characters’ maturity. The live music of the band was beautifully performed too – exactly as the musical recordings. I just LOVE the songs; they are emotional and captivating, with lovely moments of humour too.
I just LOVE LOVE LOVE this musical! I was grinning from the moment it started (and then nearly crying by the end, oops). It’s a shame that it is closing so soon (3 December) because I would gladly see this musical again. But if you have the chance listen to some recordings, I promise you won’t regret it.
Images taken from the St James Theatre website: https://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/theatre/last-5-years/