Communication breakdown is at the heart of the Welsh premiere of Jason Robert Brown’s musical The Last Five Years in a new concept by Leeway Productions using sign language as well as sung English. The story of a powerful love affair will be performed simultaneously through song and movement with West End musical theatre performers and Deaf dancers. Supported by Wales Millennium Centre and in partnership with Blackwood Miners, it will open the Performances for the Curious season at the Centre on 9 November, before touring to Aberystwyth, Caernarfon, Blackwood, Llanelli and Merthyr Tydfil.
Set in New York, The Last Five Years is an absorbing modern musical that records the romance that builds and breaks down over five years between young creatives Jamie and Cathy. Told from both perspectives, Jason Robert Brown’s story looks at love, ambition, and human nature in a cleverly structured production that runs chronologically backwards as well as from beginning to end in two parallel timelines.
Artistic Director of Leeway Productions Angharad Leedirects, having developed the concept of integrating sign language with choreographerMark Smith of Deaf Men Dancing. Angharad and Mark are determined to make theatre accessible for all and this production asks questions about how language is used and ignored in romantic relationships, and what that means for those who struggle to be heard. With BSL organically embedded into the choreography throughout, The Last Five Years can be fully enjoyed by both hearing and deaf audiences. In addition, closed captioning and a touch tour of the set will be available at all tour venues.
Lauren Hood(Vera in Mrs Henderson Presents– original London cast, Gertie Cummings in Oklahoma!– Grange Park Opera) and Michael Hamway(Aaron Schultz in Legally Blonde The Musical –UK tour, Tredgold in Forty Years On– Chichester Festival Theatre) and will sing the roles of Cathy Hiatt and Jamie Wellerstein and dancers Raffie Julien andAnthony Snowdenwill portray the couple’s interpretive alter-egos. Raffie and Anthony both previously appeared in the UK Theatre Award-winning production of The Who’s Tommyfrom inclusive theatre company Ramps on the Moon, which was also choreographed by Mark Smith. The team is completed by West End conductor and musician David Laugharneas musical director and Becky Daviesas designer, with BSL translation and expertise from Daryl JacksonandSami Thorpe.
Performed with a live band of musicians, before every performance local choirs will also sing a curtain-raising ‘Choralture’, in a twist to a traditional overture, arranged by Welsh conductor and composerEilir Owen Griffiths. As part of Leeway Productions’ commitment to making accessible theatre, the company is teaching the BSL and SSE (Sign Supported English) lyrics to all local choirs involved, raising awareness of D/deaf culture and encouraging people across Wales to learn more about inclusive communication. Comprehensive schools workshops will also accompany the tour.
Director Angharad Lee says: “It is a delight to be able to bring such an exquisite and contemporary score to Wales and to work with this music and libretto in such a ground-breaking way has been nothing short of a joy. For D/deaf audiences, Musical Theatre has always been one of the most accessible art forms due to its visual compositions. We are taking these visuals to the next level, by working with the British Sign Language as a language that sits side by side with the English and the musical language of this piece, revealing meanings in the text we would never have known, heard or seen before.”
Tickets are on sale now starting from £12, available to book online, by phone or in person directly from theatre box offices. Previews 9-10 November at Wales Millennium Centre are available to audiences on a pay-what-you-feel basis.
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff: 9 – 17 Nov
Aberystwyth Arts Centre: 20 Nov
Galeri, Caernarfon: 22 Nov
Blackwood Miners’ Institute: 27 – 28 Nov
Ffwrnes, Llanelli: 29 Nov
Theatr Soar, Merthyr Tydfil: 1 Dec
Image Kirsten McTernan