Saturday, 17 May 2014

Review: The Last Five Years, Greenwich Theatre

“I think you're really gonna like this show 
I'm pretty sure it doesn't suck”

First performed a shade over a decade ago, Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years swiftly became a hot favourite when I first heard the score, something confirmed by the first production I saw which featured Julie Atherton elevating herself to goddess status! As a two-hander with little staging needed, it is a popular show to revive, though not necessarily an easy one as a hugely misguided Guildhall production showed. Pleasingly though, this new version avoided such pitfalls to give a brilliant account of this unique love story, albeit with a criminally short run.

Co-produced with Greenwich Theatre, As Told By’s new revival played just four shows in Greenwich and will show another three times at the Brighton Fringe next week. Which is fine, but Katie Pesskin’s production is a simply stellar piece of work that deserves a much wider audience, Michael Riley’s musical direction makes the score sound as good as it has ever done and in its performances by Danielle Hope and Jon Robyns, it showcases British musical theatre talent beautifully. Let’s hope there are future plans afoot. 

The show explores the five year relationship between up-and-coming novelist Jamie and struggling actress Cathy but cleverly plays with the format so that whilst we hear Jamie’s take on events in chronological order, Cathy’s story is told in reverse, beginning with the heart-breaking end of their marriage, with the two characters only intersecting at one point in the middle – their wedding – their bittersweet closeness marred only by the fact that we already know what it to come.

As the one who has to start at the height of the emotional climax, Cathy is much the more difficult of the two roles and whilst my first thought about Danielle Hope was that she was too young for the part, she quickly dispelled any doubts with an absolutely first-rate performance – achingly sad and hugely engaging within minutes, she marries the neurotic edges and continually dashed aspirations of the character with a lovely personable warmth to really nail the frustrating complexity of this woman, never better than in the rueful recognition of the final moments of A Part of That.

And Jon Robyns, who always sounds so effortlessly at home in modern US material, is just excellent as Jamie, the witty writer whose swift career rise threatens everything else in his life, full of cheeky charisma (he brings a swaggering confidence to a great take on The Schmuel Song) and the kind of easy stage presence that many would kill for, he’s just a dream to watch onstage. Samuel Wyer’s design of a marital bed cracked in two with packing boxes either side suggests just enough about the way things are going and in the roomy Greenwich Theatre, the sound balance was impressively spot on.

Riley’s string-heavy band of six sounded excellent throughout, the music arranged perfectly throughout its wide-ranging styles, and Pesskin’s direction kept a clear sense about the opposing timelines, also allowing a few choice moments of almost-crossover to really make some of the emotional beats punch harder. It can be hard to be critical about a show I love but I honestly did think this was a fantastic production which just must come back somehow, it must! 

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 17th May, then playing The Warren 21st-24th May as part of Brighton Fringe

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