The Last Five Years, St James Theatre | Review

Thursday 3 November 2016

The Last Five Years is a heartbreakingly beautiful story of a failed marriage set to song

The Last Five Years
St James Theatre
Reviewed on Wednesday 2nd November 2016 by Olivia Mitchell

Jason Robert Brown's musical tells the story of Cathy and Jamie with her story running backwards from heartbreak to giddiness and his running forwards from the first moments of meeting to the disillusion at the end. Somehow this concept which could have been very confusing manages to work exquisitely and is carried out with professional style and ease by Samantha Barks and Jonathan Bailey.

The show runs for 90 minutes straight through and includes a number of musical styles which help to maintain the pace and make the whole relationship feel very realistic. Personal highlights were "See I'm Smiling", "The Schmuel Song" and "Moving Too Fast" all of which were total lessons in storytelling from Samantha and Jonathan. The simple staging works well to show scene changes without distracting from the intimacy of the show.

Jason Robert Brown's songs seem to get more beautiful every time I hear them and believe me I've heard them a lot! From watching the film version of The Last Five Years to listening to various youtube versions I have pretty high standards for it and this production smashed them all out of the park. This seems to be the musical exactly how it should be. Each moment seems so well thought out with each acting choice complementing the beautiful music and vice versa.

Jonathan Bailey brings humour and wit to the character of the up and coming writer Jamie who in his heart is really just a jerk; despite his love for Cathy at the start, his wandering eye and his self-absorbed personality become his downfall and the relationship fails. Jonathan's acting choices are dramatic whilst still being understated at points and he truly relates to the audience, especially when he picks out audience members to be his Cathy in certain songs.

Samantha Barks shows off her acting and singing chops once again in the role of Cathy. From the opening number of the iconic "I'm Still Hurting" Samantha embodies the character and gracefully rewinds from the bitter end of the relationship to the extreme joy she felt at the start. Samantha's star power glistens like a diamond as she commands the stage in this role and shows her versatility in moments of happiness, sadness and humour.

This is a positively admirable production which ticks every box on what makes a great musical. Its truly a lesson in acting through song and the two stars are faultless in their performances. The Last Five Years is a beautiful, bold and poignant depiction of a relationship, impeccably brought to life on stage by two wonderfully esteemed performers.

The Last Five Years is on at the St James theatre until December 3rd. You can book tickets on the website here.

photos by Scott Rylander