This latest production of Jason Robert Browns epic show The Last Five Years was produced by Leeway Productions and directed by Angharad Lee. The Last Five Years is a brilliant show written by Jason Robert Brown based on his own life and first marriage. It is a heart wrenching piece of work, that tells the intimate story of the ‘Last Five Years’ of a couple’s relationship, from beginning to end. It is written for two characters Jamie and Cathy, with Cathy’s story starting at the end of the relationship and Jamie’s story starting at the beginning. The whole show swaps characters song to song, apart from a brief interaction in the middle. It is one-act and lasts for a full-on hour and a half. It is believable, clever and incredibly well written. Jason has deliberately written every note, sound and word for a reason – and all to music, so there is no way the artist can mislead the meaning of the text.
What makes a well written show like this so powerful is for the director to get out-of-the-way and let the music and the words tell the story. While I celebrate the merit of Angharad Lee and Mark Smith, for trying to direct a piece of theatre that is ‘deaf friendly’, using ‘signing’ and ‘interpretive dance’ – having two actors on stage playing one character, one singing and one dancing along, at the same time, who are interacting with each other – is not just incredibly confusing and distracting for the audience. Essentially the production had four performers playing the two lead roles, at the same time.
I felt sorry for performers, who I felt did a great job under the circumstances. Lauren Hood and Anthony Snowden (Singing Jamie and Cathy) had some incredible heart wrenching scenes, however the audience were not allowed to feel empathy for them, as we were always being distracted by someone dancing or interacting with them who wasn’t meant to be there in the original script. In fact, we quite often missed important parts of the story, because the audiences focus was being dragged away from the performance of the actors.
This was not helped by Jane Lalljee’s lighting design, which had some major issues on the night. At multiple times throughout the show, house lights were almost thrown onto the audience, at very dramatic moments in songs. This took the audience out of the moment and twice caused the audience to laugh.
The thing that really upset me about this show, however, was the opening. As I said at the beginning, Jason Robert Brown wrote this show for a reason. Every note, comma and dot was thought about and deliberately placed there for a reason. To make the audience feel something. So, to send a 30-piece choir into the auditorium, unprompted, for no reason, to sing the first two songs of the show, when it has never been written into the production and after they finish – to turn on the theatre house music – was disjointing, unasked for and added nothing to the show overall.
I would recommend this show as a show. It is an incredible piece of theatre and I would hope that everyone gets to see it one day in their life. However, I would not recommend this production.