|Photo by Scott Rylander|
One of the best things about living in London is the sheer amount of awesome theatre available to see. All across the city on a given night there are marvellous shows to watch, from big budget musicals to experimental theatre, one-woman shows to inventive interpretations of a classic play. Truly we are blessed with a surfeit of theatrical riches.
The downside of this can be that sometimes you’ll miss shows, or they will simply not hit your radar. That’s a great shame, as sometimes smaller, more intimate pieces can lose audiences simply due to budget, big name Hollywood or Broadway stars, or name recognition. But when we are willing to do a little hunting, to take a chance, there are some amazing gems to be discovered.
One such show is The Last Five Years, currently playing at the St James Theatre, down near Victoria. I love this venue (the last time I’d attended was to see the divine Miss Katie Brennan kill it in her show) and they always have great, vibrant productions. However, I must confess that I hadn’t heard much about the show, and that’s on me, much due to the reasons above. But when my main theatre buddy Shona said she had a spare ticket, I very happily trotted along.
And man, am I glad I did.
This is a superb production. The story of a relationship, told from start to finish by one character, and finish to start by another, this is a play full of gleaming, glittering moments. There’s no interval, and the cast of two have a lot to deliver, onstage for 95% of the action completely alone bar the company of the excellent band on the back wall. This two-hander demands a lot of the characters, and the performers, and the two stars absolutely nail it. This is raw, inspiring musical theatre, and the St James is the perfect venue for a production of this type – large enough to accommodate a decent crowd, but small enough that you feel totally involved with what’s happening and unfolding on stage.
Samantha Barks is exceptional. Her vocals are gorgeous, and her control and tone just seem to get better and better. Her character is much of the emotional heart of the piece and she creates a Cathy you’re rooting for, whatever the outcome. As Jamie, Jonathan Bailey is absolutely brilliant – confident, cocky, but always a little questioning. We were sat in the front row, which I feel might need to be renamed the danger zone for any more timid theatre-goers – Jamie in particular does a lot of singing to and acting with the audience. Bailey does this incredibly well, but at one point I almost got an attack of the church laughs!
This is a stirring, beautiful musical, and I’m so glad I happened upon a chance to see it. If you’re in the market for a sensitive, inspiring piece of theatre, it’s playing at the St James Theatre until December 3rd, and I’d truly recommend it.