The Last Five Years has transferred from Southwark Playhouse to the Garrick Theatre. We take a look at the reviews for this remarkable production of Jason Robert Brown’s musical.
Jason Robert Brown’s musical The Last Five Years is now playing at the Garrick Theatre for a limited period. Glowing notices at the show’s off West End seasons at Southwark Playhouse were gold-plated and a short streaming season had me gorging on Jonathan O’Boyles incredible production featuring Oli Higginson and Molly Lynch.
We take a look at whether The Last Five Years and what the critics thought.
THE LAST FIVE YEARS REVIEW SUMMARY
BritishTheatre.com (Ray Rackham) ✭✭✭✭✭
Read our review in full here
But what of the two whose relationship we come to applaud and mourn? It seems crass to comment that two stars were born, but they truly were. Molly Lynch and Oli Higginson are the Cathy and Jamie of our times. Expertly crafted, honed, and revisited performances from two actors who have extraordinary careers ahead of them (not that they’ve been resting on their laurels since last visiting the Manhattan of L5Y). It was joyous to see their performances where they truly belong, at home on a West End stage, in a hugely impressive production of what can be a difficult show.
Evening Standard (Nick Curtis)✭✭✭
The Last Five Years review: it’s a musical about divorce… where’s the dramatic tension?
It’s a smart, compact, 90-minute piece, zestily acted and sung by Molly Lynch and Oli Higginson. But the conceptual framing that makes it special is also a limitation. I first saw Jonathan O’Boyle’s production at Southwark Playhouse precisely – bloody hell! – 11 days before Boris Johnson inaugurated the first lockdown in March 2020, and complained then that the show offered two monologues, in which we only see the characters as they see themselves.
Now I’d add that it lacks dramatic tension as well as dialogue, since we learn in the first ten minutes how the story begins and ends. It’s gained scale at the Garrick but lost the intimacy of the in-the-round staging at Southwark. It’s still charming, with a score full of recurring earworm signatures and witty rhymes, slickly staged, with likeable, attractive leads. But your enjoyment of it will still be in direct proportion to your tolerance of artsy Manhattan navel-gazing.
The Stage (Paul Vale) ✭✭✭✭✭
Director Jonathan O’Boyle’s sophisticated production is simplicity itself, transforming a potentially confusing plot line into a smooth narrative that flows seamlessly. Designer Lee Newby’s set accentuates this streamlined approach, featuring little more than a grand piano, a revolve and a judicious amount of haze. Jamie Platt’s exquisite, atmospheric lighting design pulls it all together.
It’s a show that ultimately rests on the quality of its cast, Oli Higginson and Molly Lynch. They give superlative, visceral performances capturing the excitement of new love and the agony of divorce. Exceptional vocalists both, they also bring an emotional authenticity to Brown’s diverse score. This deeply personal musical, prompted by Brown’s own divorce, has never appeared on Broadway. If small cast shows are being sought out for the Great White Way in the post-pandemic era, then this production should be a shoo-in.
The Arts Desk (Gary Naylor) ✭✭✭✭
Bittersweet musical treat gets West End upgrade
Jonathan O’Boyle’s 2020 production transfers from Southwark Playhouse to the Garrick Theatre, with some of the show’s flaws remaining, but others addressed. The common ground is that a relatively young audience (some not much older than the work itself, now past its teenage years) loved it and that bodes well for the future of the West End facing a critical winter.
Oli Higginson (pictured above) was nominated for an Offie for his performance in 2020, and you can see and hear why. He sings beautifully, a West End voice that can ache with disappointment and gleam with ambition. Critically for the role, he has charm to spare, but he’s a schmuck who could be a mensch and he knows it: he’s just too weak to resist the next bauble Manhattan throws at him – and there’s always one more.
My Theatre Mates (Alun Hood) ✭✭✭✭✭
This gem of a show
They say lightning never strikes twice: I beg to differ. Jonathan O’Boyle’s inspired actor-musician take on Jason Robert Brown’s song cycle-cum-musical felt like an eye-opening reinvention of a fascinating but conflicted piece (one half of the doomed love story between a pair of engaging, volatile creatives runs in chronological order while the other runs backwards; the two strands connect at the wedding) when it premiered at Southwark Playhouse in early 2020.
It seemed then that O’Boyle, in tandem with a crack creative team and terrific duet of performers, had found a way of making this technically breathtaking but sometimes frustratingly cerebral piece achieve genuine theatrical fire.