Writer & Composer: Jason Robert Brown
Director: Angharad Lee
Reviewer: Beth Steer
In the latest in a series of ‘Performances for the Curious’ from the Wales Millennium Centre, Leeway Productions puts on a version of Jason Robert Brown’s musical, The Last Five Years – with a spin.
Following 20-something New Yorkers Jamie (Michael Hamway), an aspiring author, and Cathy (Lauren Hood), a struggling actress, The Last Five Years charts the course of a relationship that seems ill-fated from the start, as they fall in and out of love over a tumultuous half-decade.
Where Leeway Productions’ version of the piece differs from the original, though, is the wisely-made decision to incorporate two deaf performers, Anthony Snowden, and Raffie Julien; dancers who sign their way through the performance, acting as the characters’ physical alter-egos. The use of British Sign Language and Closed Caption throughout is a brilliant move, speaking volumes about communication, what happens when it breaks down – and the difference between hearing and listening.
The score is amusing and witty, and both Hamway and Hood have good voices, successfully carrying both the upbeat, jaunty numbers as well as the more heartfelt tracks. The set and lighting are simple but effective, changing fluidly between situation, location, and time.
The plot is somewhat confusing, though, as the actors abandon the boxes used at the start to signify chronology, so it’s unclear what exactly is taking place and at what point in their relationship. The lack of interaction between the two characters doesn’t help, and makes it seem as though it was a marriage that should never have been – we’re not privy to any of the ‘good parts’ of their relationship, merely their individual (self-involved) frustration at the other’s incompetence or inability to understand them. Neither character is particularly likeable, and, rather than a tragic, emotion-filled love story, it’s more of an expose of two individual’s flaws.
But, Snowden and Julien are fantastic – stars of the show – and you’ll find your eyes drawn to them, and the subtext and underlying communication that the choreography is writing before you. They’re so good, in fact, that it stops you – perhaps ironically – from listening to the words that are being said and sung, and instead, watching what you’re being shown, instead of told.
An interesting, diverse take on a popular musical, it’s worth a watch.
Runs at the WMC until 17th November 2018 | Image: Contributed
The Last Five Years is touring regionally to the following venues:
Aberystwyth Arts Centre, 20 November
Galeri, Caernarfon, 22 November
Blackwood Miners’ Institute, 27 – 28 November
Ffwrnes, Llanelli, 29 November
Theatr Soar, Merthyr Tydfil, 1 December