Theatre: The Last 5 Years

Monday night I caught The Last Five Years at the Menier Chocolate Factory. More a song-cycle, the work charts the different perspectives of a relationship between Cathy and Jamie. It travels backwards from the Cathy's point of view and chronologically from the Jamie's over the past five years, with one song – their wedding song – sung by them together.

Jason Robert Brown – one of the "new school" of theatrical composers – wrote the piece. It quite engaging with some terrific and amusing songs with lyrics like:
"I could have a mansion on the hill
I could lease a villa in Seville
But it wouldn't be as nice as a summer in Ohio
With a gay midget named Karl, playing Tevia and Porgy…"

Once again the Chocolate Factory comes up with a great production. The leads Lara Pulver and (Australian) Damian Humbley were terrific. But a combination of things did work against the show for me tonight.

The first is that the characters are not that appealing. The show starts on a downer (Cathy singing about her break up) and ends on a downer (Jamie leaving). After sitting through 80 minutes it is tempting to shrug and think "what a pair of assholes". The songs are great but as a show it does get to be a drag when you just don't care about the characters. There were also a few technical problems with the show with things clanking and rumbling backstage a bit. This no doubt will be fixed when the previews finish this week.

But the most critical failure was that the Chocolate Factory is not air conditioned. During a heatwave in a theatre with a full house (as it was tonight) and no air ventilation it does get rather warm. As temperatures hovered towards the high forties, one elderly lady sitting two seats over from me, dealt with the heat by taking out a personal battery-operated fan. These devices are quite useful in some places where there is no air flow, but in a quiet theatre the sound of BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR does get a little distracting. Hearing it during the first few numbers I thought it was a sound problem until I heard the click of a switch. So by the sixth number I leaned over her husband and hissed in the most polite way possible "Would-you-turn-that-off-as-it-is-very-distracting!"

The fan quickly disappeared and husband then proceeded to fan wife with a programme for the remainder of the performance. It was a bit of moral dilemma for me. Does one put up with the sound of BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR and have the show completely ruined, or tell the lady to switch off her fan and run the risk she might have a heat stroke? I took a gamble that she could always just get up and leave. Besides, I have never been to a theatre where it has been considered acceptable to use a device that disturbs other audience members. After my quietly aggressive outburst judging by the non-verbal reactions of people around me they were happy somebody spoke up…

At the end of the performance husband seemed to imply to me that wife was given the fan by the box office. I said that was all very well but if we all had little battery operated fans then nobody would be able to hear a thing on stage. Besides, at least the programmes at the Chocolate Factory are a good size to fan one with. But I am adding the Chocolate Factory to my list of theatres to avoid in the summer. If they can't install some sort of ventilation, it just isn't worth going if you ask me…

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