Sunday, 14 August 2022

West End-level theatre in a studio space

FANS of musical theatre are in for a treat next week when a brand new production

FANS of musical theatre are in for a treat next week when a brand new production of The Last Five Years comes to town — courtesy of first-time producer Daisy Smith (née O’Halloran).

A Henley native, Daisy was inspired to do something when she read that this year’s Henley Fringe and Film Festival would be focusing purely on comedy and film (see story, right).

The result of her hard work is that The Last Five Years will be staged over four nights at The Studio in New Street — next door to the Kenton Theatre — from Wednesday (July 22) to Saturday (July 25).

An award-winning Broadway musical that was last year adapted for the big screen starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, The Last Five Years tells the story of Cathy, a struggling actress, and her novelist husband Jamie.

The stage version is known for a clever and unusual storytelling device whereby Cathy’s version of their relationship is told in reverse chronological order and Jamie’s in chronological order.

Intriguingly, this means the characters do not directly interact on stage — except for a wedding song in the middle when their timelines intersect.

The demands of the piece mean that Daisy and musical director Andy Smith have recruited top-level talent to play the principals.

A rising West End star, Cassie Compton as Cathy recently played opposite Matt Smith of Doctor Who fame in the musical version of American Psycho.

Her other credits include Eponine in Les Misérables, Nessarose in Wicked, Jo in Little Women, and Mary in the RSC production of The Secret Garden.

Joe Evans as Jamie hails from Reading and has taught theatre locally for Stageworks and Theatretrain.

He started his West End career covering and playing the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. He went on to play Marius in Les Misérables, Neil in Dirty Dancing, and most recently had a spell in the National Theatre production of 3 Winters.

The Last Five Years’ musical director Andy Smith is another local with a stellar West End pedigree.

Born and bred in Reading, he has conducted shows including The Lion King, We Will Rock You, Thriller, and the aforementioned Les Misérables.

However, as some readers will be aware, he started out at the Kenton Theatre working with the Henley Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society and Kenton Theatre Productions.

With just 60 seats, the show’s four-night run at The Studio represents a rare opportunity to see leading theatre talent — including a four-piece band — at work in the most intimate of settings.

Asked what had led her to put on the show, Daisy told the Standard: “The original intention was to put the show on at the Henley Fringe, but when they decided to focus on film and comedy we thought it was a real loss not to bring great theatre to the town — so we decided to produce it ourselves.

“Jason Robert Brown is an incredible award-winning writer and composer and this show is simply beautiful. That, combined with some really talented performances from a top class West End cast and band, just has to be a winning combination.

“To go up and see something in London is big money, with some top price tickets now over the £200 mark, plus trains, restaurant, etc. So it’s great to be able to bring this kind of talent to my home town for just £20 per ticket! Without the distraction of all the huge staging and effects you get in town, and with a simple set and an intimate venue you get to see raw talent, up close and personal, which is something I think is really special.

“It’s a bit of a cliché but there is something for everyone — if you love musical theatre then you will love this. If you don’t, the story is so real that you will be totally absorbed, and the music on its own is simply stunning.

“I would happily sit and just listen to the band — and have! — the music is that engrossing.”

Asked how rehearsals had been going, she said the two principals had been sounding “top-notch”, adding: “Cassie and Joe are really talented and during rehearsals it has been inspiring to see how hard they are working.

“It is a tough and incredibly intense show to perform. They have developed the characters so thoughtfully and put so much emotion into every movement and detail and come across so real and believable that it is totally absorbing.”

The Last Five Years has been produced under the banner of Daisy’s company How Very Events, which she founded in January 2014, in association with Josef Weinberger Ltd.

After Friday’s performance there will be a Q&A session plus a chance to meet the cast and crew.

Saturday night’s gala performance has been organised in association with Luscombes at the Golden Ball in Lower Assendon.

Doors open at 7.30pm with a glass of champagne and canapés, followed by the show at 8.30pm (the normal stage time).

Tickets are £20 (£35 for Saturday’s gala performance) and can be booked on 07983 333757 or by emailing Tickets can also be collected at Boatique in Hart Street.

The last word goes to Daisy, who said: “The intention is simply to bring something really special to Henley.

“I have loved the opportunity to put the show together and work with such talent and just hope people come to see and enjoy it.

“If it’s popular, maybe we can make it an annual event.”

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