Tag Archives: Molly Lynch

“The Last Five Years” at the Southwark Playhouse

After having its run cut short by the lockdown, this return to the stage – for this five-star show – is especially welcome. This is a superb production of a fantastic musical.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle and his talented performers Molly Lynch and Oli Higginson, as the couple, Cathy and Jamie whose romance we follow, all get the most from Jason Robert Brown’s superb writing.

The story’s structure is original: Cathy’s tale plays backwards (we start by seeing the marriage end) and alternates with Jamie, who begins by falling in love. Showing us such highs and lows, flipping back and forth from song to song, is explicated and elaborated magnificently by O’Boyle.

The interaction between Lynch and Higginson – which is mostly ignoring one another – as they sing about different times in their lives, creates a layered, often ghostly, effect. A moment when Jamie reaches for Cathy’s hand, which she is oblivious to, results in shivers. Even smarter, both performers take turns on a piano, starting or ending each other’s numbers to startling effect. A revolving stage, part of Lee Newby’s set, adds further sophistication.

Sam Spencer-Lane’s choreography places extra demands on both cast members which, along with sounding great, they live up to. Again, some of the imagery created is almost spectral, as if each can see the other in their imagination but fail to really communicate. 

Lynch brings a credible fragility to her sympathetic character that proves moving. We are on her side from the start. It was a worry whether she would manage lighter numbers but, thankfully, these have a satisfactory comedy to them. Lynch works wonders with a ukulele and that revolving stage.

Each time I see The Last Five Years I like Jamie a little less. The character seems more arrogant and selfish as I age! And Jamie objectifies Cathy something rotten. Countering this, Higginson’s performance is often charming and energetic, as well as always heartfelt. There’s an edge that makes me suspect Higginson doesn’t like Jamie much either… I hope so.

George Dyer’s musical direction is also impressive (the percussion sometimes a little heavy). And I wonder if the show was originally conceived for a proscenium stage, understandably altered for extra socially distanced capacity? I’d certainly recommend you don’t sit to the sides. So, the production isn’t perfect… but it’s pretty close, and one of the best shows in years.  

Until 14 November 2020

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photo by Pamela Raith

"Wasted" at the Southwark Playhouse

It’s not the fault of this strong show, a rock musical about the Brontë family, that it’s playing at the same time as another new piece called Six, which recasts the wives of Henry VIII as a pop group. Both musicals infuse history with a modern sensibility – and a lot of attitude – so maybe the more the merrier. To be clear, both shows are strong and exhibit exciting new promise from British talent, and comparisons shouldn’t be overstated as the pieces have different ambitions. But while Six is sharp and snappy, feeling like an exciting breakthrough, Wasted overreaches and comes a bit of a cropper.

The performances are all excellent. Natasha J Barnes takes the lead as Charlotte, dealing well with the clumsy flashback device of an interview and really belting out the songs. Molly Lynch is a prim and proper Anne, who also sounds great. Siobhan Athwal’s Emily, an eye-catching and committed mix of Kate Bush and Lady Gaga, proves hugely appealing. And the show has a lot of Branwell, performed with a deal of charisma by Matthew Jacobs Morgan. There’s some dissonance in the direction from Adam Lenson; it’s not quite clear how funny Wasted is supposed to be. Athwal gets a lot of laughs and Branwell is primed for them, yet the piece consistently veers towards gravity, even grimness.

There’s a great score from Christopher Ash. Heavy on rock, with plenty of passion delivered courtesy of Barnes and Lynch, with a bit of punk thrown in, Ash writes the best kind of pastiche. A comedy number for Emily recalls Kate Bush very cleverly while Jacobs Morgan’s smoother vocals are utilised well. Yet each song is just that little bit too long, too emphatic and too insistent. And Ash is not well served by the lyrics from Carl Miller, which seldom rise above the pedestrian. Miller gets a lot of information in, but there’s more prose than poetry here and attempts at humour are poor.

Tackling all four lives proves too much. It’s not that the show is too long but that Miller’s book becomes repetitive. The doom and gloom of the Brontës’ lives takes too much of the first act. And then they die. Fitting in a couple of songs about their work along the way is probably essential (although these are the weakest numbers). Presenting Branwell’s death as so literally a the result of his sisters’ success, then Emily’s collapse because of cruel critics, proves frustrating. Trying to tie all this together is the title – that the family saw their lives as wasted in one way or another – which isn’t quite enough. The show itself couldn’t be described as a waste in any way. But several ideas need reconsidering to give its subjects, and the talents of its cast and crew, a proper outing.

Until 6 October 2019

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photo by Helen Maybanks