Writer: Jason Robert Brown
Director: Stephen Fletcher
Reviewer: John Roberts
Jason Robert Brown is one of those rare composers who straddles an interesting line as a composer, he creates musicals which have more depth, more grit and more emotion than your average Lloyd-Webber, and has the power and poeticism much akin to Sondheim, so it is a pleasant surprise to see The Last 5 Years being performed at the Epstein Theatre to a very full and appreciative crowd.
But this is no ordinary performance, Life in Theatre performed the show last year to great acclaim at the intimate Liverpool Actor’s Studio, and due to popular demand is now down the road in the much bigger Epstein Theatre. It must be said though that some of the real intimacy of the piece that was presented last year is lost by its transferal to a bigger stage, the tangible rawness of the characters struggle at times fails to fill the width of the Epstein’s auditorium and the mic’ing up of Helen Carter and Stephen Fletcher could do with having a more delicate balance, however what hasn’t changed is the two central and powerful performances.
Carter and Flecther perform with great aplomb Robert Brown’s cleverly woven song cycle. A story that tells of the turbulent love affair of Jamie and Cathy who meet, marry and fall apart… however what is refreshing about the piece is apart from one song half-way through, this is a story of solo ballads, some comical, some emotional but all brilliant. Fletcher as Jewish rebel and author Jamie balances the characters likability and arrogance perfectly and his rendition of Moving Too Fast being one of the best I have ever heard. Carter while not being the strongest singer of the pair more than makes up for it, in the acting stakes, here she interprets Robert Brown’s lyrics in a way that makes you look at the material afresh and that is ultimately what every actor should make their audience do.
The music played beautifully on piano by Musical Director Nick Philips and accompanied by the soaring strings of Emily Roe on Violin and Luke Moore on the Cello means the simplicity of the melody is evident and made all the more stronger because of it.
This simplicity is carried through into the staging and while there may have been one too many blackouts between numbers, the focus stays firmly on the performance and the songs being delivered throughout. The Last 5 Years is a heartbreaking piece of musical theatre performed with love and care, making it one of the best night’s out you can currently have in Liverpool.
Life in Theatre once again should be congratulated in taking risks and producing excellent independent theatre in the region and one can’t wait to see what they do with Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys later on in the year.