REVIEW: THE LAST FIVE YEARS (St James Theatre) ★★★

samantha-barks-as-cathy-and-jonathan-bailey-as-jamie-in-the-last-five-years-at-st-james-theatre-700x455-600x350THE LAST FIVE YEARS is probably composer Jason Robert Brown’s greatest achievement of his career so far. The musical is based on his own marriage breakdown and is so close to the real life story that his ex wife threatened legal action when it was released. The off-broadway musical opened in 2002 and there have been countless productions of it around the world. Now, in 2016, the St James Theatre are reviving the classic with Jonathan Bailey and Samantha Barks at the helm of this two person show.

THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a beautiful song-cycle which takes its audience on a journey through the relationship of Jamie and Cathy – a New York couple in their twenties. We experience the high’s and the lows of their marriage, seen from the perspectives of both people. Told in opposite directions from both characters, the show starts and ends at the beginning and systematically takes us from beginning to end and end to beginning allowing the audience to experience the time these two people spent together.

The songs tell the story to the show. Opening with the beautiful ‘Still Hurting’, through to the comedic ‘Schmuel Song’ and the hauntingly emotional ‘If I Didn’t Believe In You’, this show takes its audience on an emotional rollercoaster of a relationship breakdown.

Samantha Barks and Jonathan Bailey are both highly skilled and competent performers and a beautiful couple to watch play these roles. Sadly they played the characters as nice and normal (words you don’t really want to hear described in a musical) and neither had enough edge to them. Breaking down the 4th wall and directly addressing audience members seemed a bit out of place for this show as well. Samantha sounded gorgeous but there was nothing quirky or particularly interesting about her performance. Jonathan has a lovely voice but there was no danger or real power behind his delivery. He could riff and pop it up but when it came to anything more than that he lacked real strength vocally. It all just felt a bit too comfortable for them both and they chose to play it safe rather than taking risks, which seemed strange given that the composer Jason Robert Brown was directing the show.

The set design used rather pointless and expensive looking TV screens in some scenes which served no purpose when they descended from ceiling, whilst the on stage set was old and creeky with anything but smooth scene transitions. This seemed odd considering the St James is a fairly new building and the contrast between technically impressive and technically unimpressive was amusing to say the least.

THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a brilliant show with some great music but sadly this production doesn’t quite do justice to the work that was written.

Reviewed by Ciaran White
Photo: Scott Rylander

THE LAST FIVE YEARS plays at the St James Theatre until 3 December 2016