Bristol Theatre Reviews

The Last Five Years Review

The Last Five Years The Other Palace – Lambert Jackson Productions

Since coronavirus knocked the theatre industry off its feet in March 2020, many performers, creatives and producers have been looking to more diverse, accessible and ultimately digital ways to carry on making shows where possible.

One show that really made waves on social media recently was The Last Five Years from Lambert Jackson Productions at The Other Palace streamed online. Part of the success of the show came from making it an event. It was well marketed with bookable tickets and streamed online at very specific times. This also allowed for a live outburst of appreciation on social media – a winning package devoured by a theatre deprived country.

But that’s in no way taking away from the perfect performances of Danny Becker as a spirited Jamie and Lauren Samuels as Cathy. Jason Robert Brown’s two- character time trippy musical sees both performers starting at opposite ends of a relationship time frame. Jamie is at the start of the relationship gradually moving to the separation and Cathy starts by dealing with the separation gradually moving to the initial meeting. Both characters only perform one song together in the middle. Cathy may be moving backwards on her own timeline, but Lauren Samuels’ performance is a delight, as the character grows from heartbreak and sadness to optimism and joy.

This show was created in lockdown for a lockdown audience. Whilst I was initially sceptical, the costuming and staging was exceptionally good. Both performers managed to create believable locations within the varying locations of their homes and car. The simple location of a living room floor surrounded by scattered highlighters, folders and bag items would be lost on traditional staging. But here we get an element of realism that wouldn’t translate on stage. The warm feeling from Jamie’s flat backed with a Christmas tree. The cold loneliness of a kitchen table up close with Jamie’s leaving letter.

The sound and music production was excellent with neither singer holding back at the requisite times.

As a digital piece, the audience was easily drawn into its heart. We were able to get really close to these well fleshed out characters in a way that live performance doesn’t always manage. The location divide did not detract from the piece and enhanced the feeling of isolation that the audience felt at home. We are separated in lockdown from the outside world in the way that Cathy feels in her relationship with Jamie.

The Next Ten Minutes – the song performed by both in the middle was a highly poignant moment, as was the ending. Clever editing put both characters together for the wedding, but the divide created by locations also served as the symbolic fracture in their relationship.

With a brilliant directorial debut from Samuels, this version of The Last Five Years was a joy to watch. It felt fresh, unique and embraced what may have been seen as limitations to show that it’s possible to create moving musical theatre for digital audiences.