The Last Five Years, Pleasance Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
The Last Five Years
Show details
Bossy Belters
Jason Robert Brown (original writer and composer), Jenny Tamplin (director), Steven Segaud (musical director), Mhairi McCall (producer).
Mhairi McCall (Cathy), Ethan Baird (Jamie).
Running time

The emerging Bossy Belters have chosen The Last Five Years as their debut production. The heart-wrenching musical examines a relationship spanning half a decade. Jamie starts the play after their first night together, full of hope and excitement. Cathy, on the other hand, starts at the end of the relationship, tears flowing from her eyes declaring that she is ‘still hurting.’ A series of memories flow in contradicting timelines to examine both sides of this loving, yet complicated relationship.

The musical premiered in Chicago in 2001, to great success. The hit was even adapted to film in 2014, starring Anna Kendrick. The writer and composer Jason Robert Brown firmly based the piece on his failed marriage. The painfully autobiographical aspect of the work is perhaps the key to its power.

The Bossy Belters have promised to deliver ‘big voices, small casts and real stories’, and they have nailed it in their first try. The cast didn’t hesitate in filling out their big shoes and sang with such skill and emotion they would not look out of place on the West End. Ethan Baird really captured Jamie’s egotism, even donning a fringe leather jacket and sunglasses at one point to achieve full rock star attitude. However, with Baird’s quirky physical comedy, he also became very charming. We could all understand Cathy’s attachment to him.

It was Mhairi McCall who really won our hearts. Also acting as Producer, you can tell this is McCall’s passion. Her stunning voice could capture the sorrowful loneliness, with tears falling down her cheeks, but also the frustration of Cathy’s career and even moments of humour when acting as Jamie’s secretary. She allowed Cathy to be joyful and sweet, in a character that can easily be played as stubborn or cold.

Steven Segaud, dressed in his finest suit, sat aloft the electric keyboard, single-handedly creating the entire musical accompaniment in front of our eyes, a tall order for a play that is wall-to-wall singing.

Simple lighting choices and incredibly subtle yet effective costume changes created a professional tone. At one point a short dress turns into a wedding gown making the audience laugh in delight. The set remained stripped back and bare, relying on the actors' performance to fill the stage, a right choice by director Jenny Tamplin. The focus was on capturing the reality of the relationship, keeping it raw and emotionally connected, a surprising choice for a musical but executed beautifully. They even managed to escape the over-the-top American accents that usually niggle the ear. Both Baird and McCall seemed to suit their accents and I forgot they were indeed British.

A triumph for such a new company and looking forward to seeing what they offer next, perhaps with an interval next time, as even a captivated crowd can grow restless after an hour.

28-29 May, 7.30pm.
£13.75 (£11 Student Discount)