Lighting, Atmospherics, Sound and Set
Backstage Bristol Review
We are so spoilt with big budget West End musicals in Bristol, that it becomes easy to lose appreciation for the art form. Stories, often quite moving or life-affirming, set to music with varying degrees of success, are an industry that at times loses the heart of what it actually is. That’s why it’s brilliant to see small scale productions in intimate venues that can pull it off better than some of the big-name producers.
Instantly, from the moment I walked into The Station, it felt exciting. Exciting to see musical theatre stripped back to basics. But, that doesn’t mean this was a budget production. This was musical storytelling at its most intelligent with no distractions. I wasn’t an overall fan of Jason Robert Brown’s music. They’re not show tunes you go away humming. But, a blend of well observed relationship foibles, insecurity and witty lyrics make this an entertaining piece.
I think David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor sums the plot up perfectly in his Don’t Blink speech. ‘People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.’
There are just two performers in The Last 5 Years: Cathy and Jamie. They meet, fall in love, move in together, get married, struggle with their relationship and split up. But Cathy starts at the end of the timeline and moves to the beginning with Jamie starting at the beginning and finishing with the break-up. It sounds confusing on paper, but after you’ve watched the first musical number, it makes complete sense.
It’s a big ask to sustain a show with nothing but two actors and group of musicians at the centre of the stage. Emma Griffiths as Cathy and Michael Griffiths as Jamie do this brilliantly. The pace throughout is perfect because it’s not weighed down by clunky scene changes and the action blends seamlessly from one moment to the next.
Michael Griffiths knows how to work an audience with a monkey puppet and a clock. The Schmuel Song and A Miracle Would Happen were two comic highlights. Emma’s funny When You Come Home To Me was another one, with her fabulous vocals moving from angst, comic timing and heartbreak throughout the show with ease.
I think what The Worx Productions have managed to do so successfully, is physically bring the audience into musical theatre much closer than what we are used to. This is in part due to a clever choice of venue which provides the right amount of space to stage the show yet keep us close to the action on stage. Along with good casting, it created a unique performance.
Director Pete Cottell writes in the programme that audiences watching The Last 5 Years ‘tend to fall into two camps: they’ve either never heard of it, or they’re obsessive fans.’ I had never heard of The Last 5 Years until news of this production. I was interested to read on the internet afterwards that who is to blame for the breakup is the subject of heated debate. Sorry Jamie, you cheated. No excuses