*** Contains Spoilers***
I was lucky enough to see The Last Five years twice at St James Theatre, London on 26th November 2016 and the closing night on 3rd December 2016. It was directed by the original writer and director (Jason Robert Brown) which meant that the show felt completely like it was intended. The set, casting and performances were what how it had originally been conceived.
I was unsure if I would be able to connect with the characters as Cathy tells the story anti-chronologically and Jamie tells the story chronologically with the two of them only meeting in the middle song. However I needn’t have worried. I was hooked from the opening few notes. The fact that there was only one person on stage at a time and they were telling the story of a different perspective, at a different time only added to the show.
Samantha Barks, who played Cathy, started the show with subtle sadness, hurt and anger and watching her journey throughout the songs (in reverse order) was really interesting. Obviously she has a great voice, but what I found really interesting was the way she made it seem like Jamie was there and she was talking to him. Her acting was very believable and ‘real’. I especially liked her version of ‘I Can Do Better Than That’ and ‘Climbing Uphill’ where Samantha really got to show her acting and comedic qualities. Managing to stay in tune, remember all the words (at a very quick pace) and stay in character whilst being on stage alone and the audience laughing showed off her talent.
Jonathon Bailey, who played Jamie, was literally amazing as the character. To start, he got in everyone’s faces, clearly loving playing with the audience members and was really good at directly involving the audience and taking you along on his journey. His first few songs are very comedic and I felt that Jonathon played it perfectly with great comic timing as well as a superb voice. But for me he came into his own in the last few songs, showing the gradual decline of the relationship. ‘Nobody Needs to Know‘ was haunting and left lots of the audience grabbing for tissues. Jonathon’s acting was incredible and you could really feel the tension and anguish the character feels during that song.
It’s hard to think that you could follow it so easily when one minute you are happily watching Cathy singing about just meeting Jamie and the next Jamie is basically crying about ending it with Cathy! But it was performed so well that you just got sucked in and believed it all. A real roller-coaster of emotions for the audience as well as the performers.
The set was very simple with only a few moving props to set the scene which I felt worked really well for the show. Anything more would have over complicated the show and felt unnecessary. The use of the screen behind the characters and the lights were really good too to add some extra depth to the show. I felt that the subtle props like Cathy’s watch, wedding ring etc really helped to remind the audience that the two characters were retelling their stories in a different sequence.
Overall I was really impressed with the show and am so glad that it recently won What’s On Stage ‘Best Off West End Show’ as it is thoroughly deserved it. It is a fairly unknown musical but I am really pleased I got to see it and enjoy the emotional ride that it takes you on.