Broadway World – Kerrie Nicholson
With theatres still unable to welcome audiences, creatives are going digital as more and more of their work is shared via online platforms. Lambert Jackson Productions have risen to the challenge with their latest venture: a performance of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, last seen at the Southwark Playhouse.
Recorded entirely in isolation, with the actors using only what’s available to them for props and staging, and cleverly edited together, Brown’s intimate, touching show about love, life, career and independence feels revitalised and re-energised for a millennial, more digital-savvy crowd.
The Last Five Years follows a couple, Jamie and Cathy, through their relationship: Jamie in chronological order, Cathy in reverse. Aside from a single scene where these timelines intersect, the two never directly interact. What abounds in this version, though, is the energy and credibility of the two actors as a couple – albeit from opposite ends of the relationship, which makes the ending all the more poignant. Lauren Samuels and Danny Becker lead with tremendous charm and understanding of their characters’ depth.
Samuels makes a beautifully tender Cathy, and it’s a joy watching her go through her story arc with such grace and sensitivity. Being new to the piece as a viewer beyond hearing a particular song out of context a few times, I marvelled at how easily Lauren could take me to Cathy’s heartbreak where she begins the show, all the way back to that first experience of new love and evoke how that feels, with a simple movement or change in body language.
“A Part of That” is a particular highlight, as Cathy, alone at one of Jamie’s multiple parties celebrating his success as an author, decides the best way to love him is to support his success and put aside her own dreams. Standing between two tables for wine glasses and nibbles, Samuels clasps the novel, leafs through its pages and, with her eyes heavenward and casually tired of being ignored at endless functions, Cathy’s turmoil becomes palpable and endearing.
Danny Becker’s Jamie is a spirited ball of energy who’s impossible to resist, especially delightful as he romps around the kitchen in “Moving Too Fast”. As Jamie struggles with the demands of his work and how to reconcile these with his relationship, resentments and accusations come to the fore, in scenes that become hard to watch because Becker makes the character so likeable when we first meet him. The actor brings these changes in so subtly and deftly that they’re all the more powerful for it.
As well as starring, Samuels makes her directorial debut, and what struck me was an overwhelmingly exciting intensity: each of these 14 songs feel like one-act plays within the piece, and I longed for some to continue to see where each actor would take them next – but, as is the nature of the show, it teases and tantalises.
There are wonderful bursts of humour, too: I laughed out loud during one of Cathy’s auditions, and seeing the floor strewn with highlighter pens and folders as she video chats. We move from room to room, room to garden and even to the front seat of a car for various scenes, and there’s always a sense of resourcefulness and playfulness brought about by the new format that makes for an entertaining watch, as well as a touching story.
As a newcomer to the show as a whole, I’m delighted that my introduction has come in such an innovative way, with two immensely talented leads at the helm.