This clever musical takes that age-old tale and turns it on its head by telling the story in opposite directions.
They are two 20-something New Yorkers: aspiring actress Cathy, whose story is told backwards from break-up to meeting; and novelist on the brink of the big-time Jamie, whose story we see from courtship to separation. Only at the midway point when they get married do their versions of events overlap.
It’s a technique that could be confusing for the uninitiated, but as a storytelling tool it lifts the simple plot to new levels. Writer Jason Robert Brown has come over from New York to direct this sure-handed revival.
With only a cast of two and no interval, it makes demands on the actors, but Brown has chosen wisely. Samantha Barks (Les Miserables, on stage and screen) and Jonathan Bailey (Broadchurch, W1A) sing like a dream and wring every moment of poignant emotion from Brown’s clever score, while at the same time showing a neat touch for comedy. Particularly in the case of Barks, whose agony at yet another awful, fruitless audition is delightful to watch.
The clunky wheeling on and off of scenery slackens the pace somewhat, but for the most part it’s simply staged, with the focus quite rightly on music and performance – and that is of the highest order.
The Last Five Years is at St James Theatre until 3 December
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