St. James Theatre: Closes 26th November 2016
As the familiar opening bars of the music started and the auditorium fell into silence, I felt chills creep up my spine as Samantha Barks walked onto the stage to sing the opening number.
The Last Five Years is a show that I had been hoping would one day make its way over to the UK. I have been a fan of the soundtrack for a few years, I think because of its strong narrative and powerful vocals. When I heard that it was to be brought over to London, and staged in the St. James (soon to become The Other Palace) Theatre, and that the lead roles would be played by Jonathan Bailey and Samantha Barks, I knew that it had been worth the wait!
This show is unique because for starters, the cast comprises of two people, and secondly, because both characters narrate their stories individually, but begin at either end of a metaphorical timeline. To better explain myself; the show gives a glimpse into the lives of a married couple (Cathy and Jamie) that, over the course of five years fall out of love. Cathy tells the story backwards, when we see her at the beginning of the show she is broken, she is singing about the end of a relationship. When Jamie arrives on stage and begins to sing the next song, it is evidently clear that he is telling the story from the beginning of the relationship. He is a young, fresh faced writer who is at the commencement of a successful career and in love. The only point in which both characters share the same moment on stage is in the middle, when they sing a beautiful song together and for a few moments everything else is forgotten. It is just them, in that moment, and it is absolutely mesmerising. I could almost feel the whole audience holding their breath as we were sucked into this magical moment before being thrown back into reality.
Due to the nature of the narrative, I had wondered if I would find it difficult to follow because of the way it switches between time frames, however I found that the music put everything into context and the pattern repetition throughout brought everything together, so it was easy to tell what point we were at. As I have already mentioned the music had a very strong narrative as well. I have found that by just listening to the soundtrack it is very easy to understand and picture what is going on, and this show is staged so that whoever is telling their side of the story is responding to an imaginary version of the other character, rather than the actual person. The phenomenal performance that both actors gave meant that even though we couldn’t see who their character was interacting with, it was surprisingly easy to imagine this figurative person and despite only hearing one side of a conversation, we knew exactly what the other was saying.
The use of spotlighting each character when they were telling their side of the story kept the focus on them, and so reminded us that not being able to see other characters within their story was not important because this part was about them. The audience were flies on the wall, watching the couple recall memories from their past.
The St. James Theatre is very intimate; and this worked particularly well for this musical because everything about the show speaks intimacy. It’s an emotionally powerful show, and because it is driven very much by the performance of the actors, this theatre was the ideal location because it allowed for them to really connect with the audience, and they were able to use facial expressions which could have been lost in a larger theatre.
I feel that the outstanding variety of the vocals was highlighted because of the size of the theatre as well. There were moments when they could sing really softly and I could feel the emotion and intimacy from the back row of the auditorium. The more powerful songs filled the theatre without having to be shouted to reach the back. This meant that every song was clear and every word was heard, even in the quieter moments. The soundtrack is something which really shows off the variety of vocals and the talent of these actors. Samantha Barks’ vocal range is Mezzo-Soprano and it was fantastic to have material that showed off such a full vocal range. Similarly with Jonathan Bailey; the score gave him such a multitude of vocals which ranged from very soft, moving songs, to excitable numbers which were full of energy and hilarity. Both Jonathan and Samantha had their fair share of ‘belt’ songs which blew me away each time- the talent on that stage was absolutely extraordinary; they were born to play these roles.
The Last Five Years is playing at the St. James Theatre until November 26th 2016 and I urge you to book tickets. It is a really unique show which is full of extraordinary talent. Comedic elements chime together with emotion in perfect balance; it is a show that I never want to end and I am already trying to figure out when I can return!
Thanks to Jenny for taking the photos for myself and Emilie. 🙂