I was lucky enough to get preview tickets to see The Last Five Years at Southwark Playhouse earlier this week, so I thought I’d write down a few of my thoughts on it.
One of my lifelong passions is musical theatre. I’ve always loved the depth that musical theatre songwriting can express that doesn’t often appear in popular music. While most people listened to the latest UK Top 40 hits during their teenage years, I spent mine obsessing over In The Heights, Sweeney Todd, Company and Rent.
I’ve loved The Last Five Years for over a decade now. I know every lyric and every musical inflection from the 2001 Original Broadway Recording, so it was much to my delight that I happened to stumble upon this production at the lovely Southwark Playhouse.
In case you’re not aware of the premise, The Last Five Years tells the story of the five year relationship of Cathy and Jamie. While Jamie’s story starts at the beginning of their relationship and moves forwards to its inevitable demise, Cathy’s moves backwards. This love-in-reverse concept created a cult musical theatre classic back in the noughties, and it’s still extremely poignant today. Jason Robert Brown’s musical is a masterclass in songwriting, packed with incredibly-difficult-to-pull-off numbers, with the responsibility for these songs heaped entirely on two actors.
The great news is, both actors in this performance, Molly Lynch (Cathy) and Oli Higginson (Jamie), pull this show off with apparent ease. It’s no mean feat vocally and in this arena both leads really excel. Lynch in particular moves from one tricky song to the next with total professionalism. There’s something totally magnetic about her performance and she hits every note.
Higginson comes into his own as the musical progresses. Whilst I did feel some of his earlier songs were overplayed slightly – he did occasionally remind me of an overexcited puppy – his transition into the heavier material later in the play was remarkable. His vocals can’t be faulted and you really feel invested in his emotional journey as the performance plays out.
There’s also some clever direction by Jonathan O’Boyle here, with both actors playing the piano parts for each other’s solos – which are ordinarily performed alone on an empty stage. Set and props make a big difference here, and are used effectively to tell the story. During A Summer In Ohio, for example, Lynch plays a ukulele whilst performing to a laptop screen on a video call to Jamie, which really helps us understand the challenges of their long-distance relationship.
Overall, it was a real nostalgia trip for me and I felt both Lynch and Higginson nailed their performances. This musical really is a classic and it’s not often that it makes an appearance in London, so I’d highly recommend booking tickets while you can. After a series of great reviews, this one is likely to sell out fast.