Review: The Last Five Years. The Mill at Sharnbrook Theatre

The Last Five Years

Sharnbrook Mill Theatre

6th April 2022

The world of Musical Theatre is chockfull of love stories, some more successful than others, and all with varying levels of saccharine sugariness and overblown melodrama.  While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with people belting power ballads in each other’s faces, audiences looking for something a little different may have already discovered ‘The Last Five Years’, the 2001 musical by Jason Robert Brown, which was later made into a film starring Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick.  A love story with a cleverly different narrative, the show is enjoying a production this week at the Sharnbrook Mill Theatre.

‘The Last Five Years’ tells the story of Cathy and Jamie, exploring their relationship from passionate beginnings, to engagement and marriage, to eventual separation, as the characters navigate differing career successes and try to deal with the frustrations and resentments that these cause.  Where this musical stands out from the crowd is in its storytelling, in that while Jamie’s narrative is told in chronological order, Cathy’s is done in reverse, with the characters never interacting on the stage apart from where their stories intersect at their wedding.  This is a masterstroke by writer and composer Jason Robert Brown, as you learn the outcome of the story near the beginning, but not the reasons for it until the end.

The musical’s non-linear plotline (99% of which is sung-through as well) demands complete concentration from the audience, but in that, we are rewarded with an engaging experience which pays off continually throughout.  Brown’s songs and melodies are perhaps not instantly catchy, but reap rich rewards with repeated listens.  Each one is its own story, varying in tone from the elation of young love to the heartbreak of closure, and are far more emotionally rich than a lot of standard love songs.  Being told nearly completely in song, the lyrics alone tell the story, and this is definitely a show that reveals more on repeated viewings.

Although an amateur production, director Mike Horne has created something that is very nearly equal to professional quality.  The timelines are clearly signposted through changes in costume and a backdrop of projected images, and the 85-minute running time passes by in a flash.  The orchestra also do a fantastic job in performing Brown’s score.  The team of 5, led by Kaye Tompkins, deliver a much fuller richer sound than the sum of their parts may initially suggest, and the end result sounds wonderful.

Being a two-character piece (characters which mostly have nothing to act opposite for most of the show), this show sinks or soars on its cast.  Luckily, Horne has found two brilliant local performers to being Jamie and Cathy to life.  Simon Jackson is great as Jamie, capturing the character’s energy really well and also not shying away from the big notes in his songs which he delivers confidently.  Lauren Bain is also fantastic as Cathy, showing off a powerful voice and also strongly diverse acting talents, handling both “A Summer In Ohio” and “Still Hurting” with equal skill.   Both actors also have flawless American accents, which can so often be the death knell to many an amateur production, but not so here, again elevating the piece to near-professional standard.

“The Last Five Years” may not be the most immediately-accessible musical, but for its characters and storytelling, it deserves to reach a large audience, as does the Sharnbrook Mill’s production.  A brilliant showcase of local talent, it’s a pleasure to watch, and a great achievement by all involved. There are only 3 performances left.  Don’t miss out.

The Last Five Years runs at the Sharnbrook Mill Theatre until Saturday 9th April.

Performance runtime 85 minutes without interval.

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