Review: Blistering Performances Scuppered By Weak Songs In The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years, Garrick Theatre ★★★☆☆

Review: Blistering Performances Scuppered By Weak Songs In The Last Five Years The Last Five Years, Garrick Theatre 3
Oli Higginson as Jamie and Molly Lynch as Cathy in The Last Five Years. © Helen Maybanks

An intriguing concept and two powerful performances don't stop The Last Five Years from being as frustrating as, well, the last five years.

This two-decade-old American import from the pen of Jason Robert Brown has been lauded Stateside and arrives in the West End after a run at the Southwark Playhouse last year. The latest two-hander to hit the London stage (after the brilliant Lungs and this year's Constellations series) comes with a fun premise; a pair of lovers alternately describe their five-year relationship from their own perspectives but, while aspiring novelist Jamie starts his story from when they meet, actress Cathy's recounting begins as the couple break up and then works her way backwards.

They first sing together at the midway point when they celebrate their wedding day; from there, Jamie spirals towards philandery and divorce while Cathy becomes ever more optimistic about her future.

Weak songs make what could a great musical, only OK. © Helen Maybanks

This isn't the first musical to play with chronology. Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Go Along also began at the end and travelled backwards — and the dramatic device here in and of itself isn't enough to elevate a songbook with an occasionally confusing narrative and few bona fide hits.

Oli Higginson and Molly White as Jamie and Cathy respectively give blistering performances as they dance around a revolving baby grand piano and make the very best of a shallow plot and clichéd characters. Unusually for a musical, you are on their side throughout the show despite — not because — of the songs.

All in all, there's nothing as bad in this playful musical as the unholy trinity of Brexit, Trump and Covid but there's a lingering sense that this could be so much more.

The Last Five Years, Garrick Theatre. Tickets from £21.50. Until 17 October.

Last Updated 24 September 2021