Communication breakdown may be at the heart of Jason Robert Brown’s musical The Last Five Years but the latest stage presentation by Leeway Productions, reverses the concept in order to communicate a story with the audience by combining sign language, choreography and sung English,
Set in New York, the production (forming part of Wales Millennium Centre’s Performances for the Curious season) is a modern musical that records a five-year relationship that builds and breaks down between young creatives Jamie and Cathy. Told from both perspectives, the story encompasses a range of emotions including love, ambition, and human nature.
Artistic Director of Leeway Productions Angharad Lee has cleverly developed the concept of integrating sign language with Mark Smith’s choreography, while taking an unusual step in doubling the cast to include two dancers as well as two singers, simultaneously playing the parts of Jamie and Cathy.
I particularly liked the concept of both characters having a singing and signing persona, while simultaneously interacting with their counterpart as an aspect of each other’s personality. These occasionally appeared to take the form of carefully choreographed inner psychological battles. Jamie (played by Anthony Snowdon and Michael Hamway) may for instance fmake a very physical exchange on whether to drink another glass of wine, while Cathy (Lauren Hood and Raffle Julien) may mirror a reflection by looking into each other before performing a dance duet.
While a simplistic and manoeuvrable set allows the characters to move freely from scene to scene, the accompanying band are seen in the background. Conducted by David Laugharne. The music for The Last Five Years is the glue that solidifies the production and makes enjoyable listening from start (when a local choir sings a medley of songs) to finish. My favourite moment was when violinist Katy Rowe stepped forward to officiate Cathy and Jamie’s wedding with a beautiful violin solo.
The musical features much in the way of startling songs, including Michael Hamway regaling a Christmas story in The Schmuel Song and Lauren Hood combining drama and American songbook musicality with her rendition of Still Hurting.
The Last Five Years is a revolutionary piece of new theatre. With British Sign Language embedded into its choreography, it’s a dynamic experience for all theatre-goers as it tours Wales in the coming weeks.
The Last Five Years continues at Wales Millennium Centre’s Weston Studio until November 17 before touring Wales into December. The production has an age guidance of 12+ for booking details visit http://www.wmc.org.uk