You would be hard pressed to find a more sure-footed staging of Jason Robert Brown‘s eloquent, emotive and rarely staged musical, The Last Five Years than that from Mad Props Theatre presented in the atmospheric surroundings of the former ‘Steamie’ of Glasgow’s Edwardian Govanhill Baths.
The story of the five year relationship of Jamie, a writer whose star is on the rise and Cathy, a struggling actress, it is distinguished from its musical theatre peers by its structure; presented as opposing timelines, Jamie’s story moves chronologically from the couple’s first meeting and charts his rise a novelist and the disintegration of the relationship, whilst Cathy’s moves backwards from the end. The pair only meet briefly in the middle of the musical when their timelines intersect at their wedding.
This fluent production has a resonance and poignancy that speaks powerfully to anyone who has ever experienced the breakdown of a relationship and it is deftly handled by director Marc MacKinnon who keeps interest levels high and the action moving on apace (indeed the production feels as if it has gone by in the blink of an eye). The staging in the derelict former wash-house adds greatly to the viewing experience with its exposed brick, air-conditioning ducts and multi-tiered scaffolding and represents perfectly the shabby New York apartment of the young couple: we are there, in the moment with Cathy and Jamie, feeling every moment of joy and pain on their emotional journey.
Brown’s music is a veritable smorgasbord of musical styles from rock and pop via Klezmer, jazz and folk: you really have to tip your hat to a man who can include strippers and snakes, Doritos and Limbovitch in his lyrics with ease and the fifteen songs are a perfect balance of humour and heartache.
The incredibly talented pair carrying the weight of the show on their shoulders (Imogen Parry and Sam Willison) are entirely believable as Cathy and Jamie, and each is in possession of a fine voice, Parry is particularly effective in conveying Cathy’s endless frustrations at her career and the profoundly upsetting unravelling of her relationship. Credit too, must go to musical director Paul Slevin for managing to make a single piano sound like a whole band.
The Last Five Years is a creative re-telling of a much explored theme and Mad Props Theatre more than live up to their reputation as the classiest amateur theatre group in Glasgow with this production. Do yourself a favour and catch it if you can.