I always enjoy visiting the Tabard Theatre in Turnham Green, Chiswick. It is small, easy to get to, and conveniently close to my house. This season they are staging ‘The Last Five Years’ by bright young composer, Jason Robert Brown. The production stars Wizard of Oz wannabe Lauren Samuels and Christopher Pym as the energetic young couple.
Jason Robert Brown’s music fuses different contemporary and pop styles with chirpy, clever, theatrical lyrics. I have always admired his music, in particular the revue ‘Songs for a New World’, and so was very excited about seeing this production. The musical requires a decent band, and this the Tabard has, full of life and soul, they seemed to be having a great time playing along. Musical Direction comes from competent Lee Freeman, who is obviously as passionate about Robert Brown’s music as the rest of us.
As one Dorothy clicks her heels at the Palladium, in the new Wizard of Oz, another hopeful from the TV show sings her heart out on the Tabard’s modest little stage. And with an intimate audience of about seventy this is certainly a whole other land of showbiz. I have previously seen Samuels in Grease, The Musical and was satisfied by her performance there, but in ‘The Last Five Years’ she transforms from a standard musical theatre lead to a real star, singing and acting to a very high standard. Performing alongside her, Pym isn’t as impressive, though does have a few sparkling moments.
The story in a nutshell: Cathy (Samuels) and Jamie (Pym)'s tumultuous five year relationship has sadly now reached its end. Both sides are retraced by the pair individually: Jamie remembers the relationship from the cautionary start to the bitter end, whereas Cathy travels back in time from the end of their marriage through to when they first met. For the best part of the show both characters are singing to a memory or ghostlike resemblance of their partner, they are strange and lonely roles. Cathy and Jamie meet in the middle of the show for their marriage, share a kiss then depart back to their own worlds. At one point another girl is shown in Cathy’s bed, representing the affair Jamie had, it is spooky and quite chilling to watch, but apart from that it is only these two actors on stage for the whole performance.
Both Samuels and Pym are like excitable teenagers, bouncing around naively. Cathy faces rejection as an aspiring actress, while Jamie’s ambitions to be a writer are slowly and successfully realised. Samuels sings ‘When you come home to me’ brilliantly and with a humorous twist she captures the audience’s imagination completely. Pym seems to struggle vocally, especially at the start, and compensates by over-acting. Though once he is properly warmed up he becomes more enjoyable to watch.
The Tabard has appropriately staged this American love story just over the Valentine period – now that’s what I call clever scheduling! This is a rare chance to see this brilliant, little performed show; ‘The Last Five Years’ continues until 5 March, book here.