Sunday, 16 June 2019

AMATEUR THEATRE REVIEW: The Last Five Years - The Garrick Theatre, Stockport.

Written and composed by Tony Award-winning American playwright and musician, Jason Robert Brown, ‘The Last Five Years’ tells the story of a young man and woman as they fall in and then out of love with one another. This happens over the course of - yes, you guessed it - five years, from the characters’ early to late twenties. Cathy Hiatt, played by Helena Frances, and Jamie Wellerstein, played by Jack Hawkins, tell their stories out of sync with one another. Whilst Jamie’s story is told in chronological order, Cathy tells hers from the end in reverse order. An intriguing method as the audience are gripped to discover why this modern relationship will inevitably fail.

As the musical is a two-hander, it is understandable that the stage space for the two actors was made smaller by a raised platform on top of the original stage, with a wonderful live band placed directly behind. To fill the usual size of the stage would have been difficult as on most occasions there is only one actor on stage at any one time. Apart from the use of clocks all around the raised platform to denote the importance of time, the stage was very unsuggestive and used little more than a table and chairs throughout. The rapid changing of scenes and time frames demanded this.

It is often a worry to stage a play with only two actors to a 150 seat audience, but both actors were more than comfortable and able to command the stage on their own. Both displayed excellent acting through the use of song and their huge vocal ranges must also be commended. It was a shame to see that only half of the seats for opening night were filled. The power of Hawkins and Frances’ vocals really deserve a full house. It is easy to see writer, Brown’s, heavy Stephen Sondheim influences in this play through the use of discordant notes and unconventional musical style. The blending of rock and ballad styles between songs were a refreshing mix, and one which the actors had no trouble with. Also similar to Sondheim, this production is made up of about 95% singing, with very little talking in it at all; and a large portion of the talking is backed up by music from the live band.

This is not Tom Ferguson’s first outing as a director for the Stockport Garrick, although I believe it is his first for a musical. This didn’t seem to faze him, however. With the aid of musical director, Eilidh Pollard, they both created a strong piece of musical theatre in which all of the talents of the show are really highlighted. There is no hiding behind sets or other actors in this production.

One thing I will say is, although I have no problem with a play with no interval such as this one, I did not see any signs anywhere on the website or in the theatre about this, nor was I told upon entry. The hour and a half one-act run time therefore came as a shock to me.

Although the Stockport Garrick is an amateur theatre; the effort, dedication and talent displayed would suggest otherwise. Aside from the low budget they clearly had, you would not have questioned someone if they stated that this was a professional piece of theatre. When the talent is this good, you don’t need the budget of a West End production.

Reviewer - Megan Relph
on - 15/6/19

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