The Last Five Years, Southwark Playhouse | Review


The Last Five Years
Southwark Playhouse
Reviewed on Wednesday 4th March 2020 by Olivia Mitchell 
★★★★

Originally premiering in Chicago in 2001 and then transferring to off-Broadway, Jason Robert Brown's song cycle musical was last seen in London in 2016 at the St James theatre. Chronicling a couple's passionate but ultimately doomed relationship, it is a brilliant exploration of life and cleverly plays with time; having one partner starting at the end of their story and the other at the start. They only overlap during their proposal and marriage mid way through.

This Southwark Playhouse production is a completely transfixing showcase of a spectacular musical. Jonathan O'Boyle's production is wonderfully staged and feels completely fresh in it's approach to the score and story. 

Lee Newby's set provides a fantastic canvas for the emotional drama to evolve, with small props effectively emphasising moments but always leaving the focus on the characters and their story. At times these props do feel a little too literal but they are so briefly used that it's barely an issue. There's always a sense of momentum in this piece thanks to the varying styles of Jason Robert Brown's music which keep the pace up. Additionally in this production, there is the use of a revolve which physically adds drive as it often seems to move clockwise for Jamie's plot and anti-clockwise for Cathy's- a very clever touch.

Jamie Platt's lighting is an especially enjoyable element of this musical, with contrast and darkness being used extremely well. A particularly effective moment is when the sun rises and the space is gradually transformed from a blue tinge to a warm orange.


Oli Higginson brings a great sense of journey to the up and coming writer, Jamie. Genuinely loving Cathy at the start, his self-absorbed personality and wandering eye soon become his, and the relationship's downfall. There's often an argument as to who was really in the wrong in this pairing and of course, both are to blame, but in the end Jamie really is a jerk and Oli does a great job of showing it. The contrast between the whimsy and elation in The Schmuel Song and the downright aggression in If I Didn't Believe in You, is highly effective. Higginson's accent does falter at times and occasionally the theatrical facade is broken, but overall his performance is joyous and enraging to watch.

As Cathy, Molly Lynch is just radiant. Rewinding from the bitter breakup to the jubilant start, Molly is consistently magnificent to watch. Vocally her performance is as clear as glass and beautifully controlled in her strong mix, but it's her acting which really brings her character to life. A mixture of nuanced and grand moments showcase the skills Molly possesses, and completely wrap you up in her journey. 

Plus, both actors bring their musician skills to the table, deftly swapping places at the piano. Their incompatibility is even highlighted as they aggressively accompany one another and often give particular attention to the discordant parts of the music, or the melodies which are repeated throughout but are continually out of sync with each other.

With humourous sequences (Jamie on facetime during A Summer in Ohio) and devastating moments of relationship failure, this really is a roller coaster gem of a piece. Brown's music gives so much to work with and the team on this production have really done an excellent job. The two leads are esteemed in their performances as they give a masterclass in acting through song that will break you and build you at once.

The Last Five Years plays at the Southwark Playhouse until 28th March

photo credit: Pamela Raith

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