Theatre Review: THE LAST FIVE YEARS – Bolton Albert Halls, Bolton


Despite its beautiful score and entertaining technical performances, THE LAST FIVE YEARS fails to pack a punch

Seventeen years after the original premiere of Jason Robert Brown’s beloved musical, the Albert Halls in Bolton presents THE LAST FIVE YEARS as it’s first in-house production.

THE LAST FIVE YEARS tells the story of Cathy and Jamie’s five-year relationship, but whilst Jamie tells it in chronological order, Cathy tells the story in reverse. Not only does this provide an interesting insight into how each character viewed the relationship, but it also serves as a brilliant representation of why it inevitably breaks down. Jason Robert Brown crafted this musical so beautifully, drawing from his own experiences and his failed marriage to actress Theresa O’Neill, that many of the songs have become musical theatre staples including STILL HURTING and MOVING TOO FAST. There’s a lot riding on the opening number, as pretty much every soprano has STILL HURTING on their rep!

Considering this musical is so widely loved, something feels a little flat about this production. Due to Jamie and Cathy being the only characters onstage, the show relies heavily on these actors and their chemistry. Unfortunately, Sam Lupton and Stephanie Clift just don’t seem to have the chemistry required. They both give impressive and entertaining technical performances, Lupton’s SCHMUEL SONG being a highlight of the first act, but everything lacks a punch and the audience struggles to connect with either character.

While Bolton’s Albert Halls is a beautiful venue, the room is also too big for such an intimate piece. The venue feels empty, which also might have contributed to the sense of a lack of energy. This particular show is definitely more suited to smaller, fringe-like venues such as Manchester’s Royal Exchange or Hope Mill Theatre, however, James Edgington’s direction does make good use of the space, utilising levels and interacting with the audience.

Thankfully, the energy picks up during Act Two, likely due to the fact that A MIRACLE WOULD HAPPEN is a much punchier opener than STILL HURTING. The two performers also work beautifully together in the last number, GOODBYE UNTIL TOMORROW/I COULD NEVER RESCUE YOU, which is heartbreaking and uplifting all at once.

Musical Director Lol Harris provides piano accompaniment and skillfully performs Jason Robert Brown’s tricky score, but those familiar with the music of THE LAST FIVE YEARS might feel the loss of the string section and percussion used in other productions, which again, could help to fill the emptiness of the theatre. There were also some volume and diction issues, especially during the spoken parts of the show. As the piece was performed in the round, audience members cannot always see the actors faces, which made it very difficult to hear what they were saying at times.

That said, this is a wonderfully constructed show with beautiful songs and music. Shame then that for a show that is so driven by character, the interpretations of Cathy and Jamie are so difficult to relate to. The songs are beautifully sung, but the storytelling behind them just falls a little short.

3 out of 5 stars

THE LAST FIVE YEARS runs at Bolton Albert Halls until 23 November 2018.