‘The Last Five Years’ follows a struggling actress and a successful writer, who fall in love in New York, get married and drift apart over the course of five years. This love story is nothing new, but Jason Robert Brown’s method of story-telling certainly is unique.
The unconventional narrative began with Cathy (Stephanie Clift) telling her story from the end, we find her heart-broken and pale at his desk chair. By contrast, we were introduced to Jamie (Sam Lupton) and his puppy love optimism as he told his story in chronological order. The cult musical found its way to the screen in 2014, starring the likes of Anna Kendrick and reignited a passion for the production that has had it popping up in theatre venues across the UK ever since.
Under the direction of James Edington, the ingenious structure stayed intact at Bolton Albert Hall, the first in-house production since the venue’s renovation. However, I fear that it failed to deliver the impact they were hoping for. It is the first time I have seen this production staged in the round. This was perhaps done in an attempt to make the vast space match the intimacy of the storyline.
As one of few seated in the front row, I found myself sat next to Jamie in a couple of his numbers, attempting to maintain polite eye contact. Despite these awkward attempts, the venue completely dwarfed the actors and led them to take comically large strides to enter and exit the performance space. However, Edington should be commended for his attempt to master the vast space, using levels and working with the given infrastructure of the venue to further facilitate this telling of the story.
Lupton as Jamie and Clift as Cathy gave technically impressive performances. The pair have multiple West End credits under their names and have previously worked opposite each other in the ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ UK Tour. Indeed, a familiarity between the two was clear, however it did not come across that the pair even fancied each other! Clift was slightly more convincing in her affections, but considering that the story hinges solely on convincing the audience of the rise and a fall of a young couple’s relationship, the lack of chemistry is quite hard to overlook.
However, there were several points where each actor’s characterisation and style made for moments of genuine entertainment and hilarity. In particular, the scene where Cathy sang about her summer job in Ohio where she suffers the all too familiar and laughably painful audition process for young actresses starting out. (“Why is the director staring at his crotch? Why is that man staring at my résumé? Don’t stare at my résumé!”) Equally, Lupton’s gave a charmingly cheeky rendition of the Shmule Song to bolster his wife’s spirits at the end of the first act.
That said, for a story that relies so much on the audience believing the authenticity of the relationship in front of them, this production falls a little short.