BWW Interview: Lauren Samuels Discusses Lockdown Performance of THE LAST FIVE YEARS
Lambert Jackson Productions, in association with The Other Palace, recently announced they will be producing a "virtual lockdown performance" of Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years for three nights only later this month.
Filming their parts entirely in isolation, Danny Becker and Lauren Samuels take on the roles of Jamie and Cathy respectively, with Samuels also making her directorial debut. We were lucky enough to speak to Lauren about this forthcoming musical production with a twist.
Firstly, how are you and how are you coping during lockdown?
I'm doing OK thank you. I started lockdown going slightly insane and panicking about what my life would become (like the drama queen I am!), but I quickly managed to find the beauty in all of the free time I'd been gifted. I've done everything from candle making to tie dying.
A virtual production of The Last Five Years sounds incredibly exciting and is probably one of the few shows I could see working in this format. How did the concept come about?
It was when I was deciding what songs to sing for my Leave A Light On virtual concert that I thought of The Last Five Years. There were numerous concerts and Instagram Live performances happening online, but no full pieces of theatre being attempted. The Last Five Years has always been a favourite of mine (having performed the role of Cathy back in 2011) and, as you say, is one of the few musicals that I thought would work during lockdown. I created a storyboard of how I thought it could work and approached Lambert Jackson with the idea. I want to give people the theatre that they've been missing in a unique way, whilst still obeying the lockdown rules!
This will mark your directorial debut. Is directing something you've been interested in exploring for a while?
As an actress, I've always had a creative mind and often spend time writing or trying to create. Directing was always something I wanted to try my hand at but I've never been given the opportunity or had the time to fully focus on it. Lockdown has fortunately given me that time and it's definitely something I'd like to explore further.
Directing for film/TV is so different to directing for the stage and this project almost sits in between the two. What's your approach?
Yes, this was one of my main concerns going in, because I want it to be a full theatrical experience - but it is, of course, filmed. I think for me there has always been this misconception that acting for TV is somehow different than acting for stage. We always get told to act "smaller" for TV, but actually if you look at people like Jim Carrey on screen, his performances are huge! It's my belief that if the acting is true, it will read on either screen or stage, so I hope that will be the case with this project.
What are the challenges of both starring in and directing The Last Five Years?
I think the biggest challenge for me will be being able to criticise my own performance, but in a helpful way. It's very easy to over-criticise yourself, and in my experience, the best directors are the ones who allow you to find your own way to the finished result they're looking for, without just telling you that you're doing it wrong.
I certainly learned a lot about the character, the show and the music when I did the show back in 2011, so I'll definitely be using some of that knowledge. But I also wanted to approach Cathy with fresh, older and wiser eyes. I feel like there is much more I understand about her now than I did back then. It's so interesting to revisit a character and see how your feelings towards them have changed.
I have also seen the 2014 film of the show and loved it! But that really is a "film", and while we are filming this version of The Last Five Years, I want to stress that it is the stage version. By saying this, I mean the characters of Cathy and Jamie are never together. When they sing or talk to one another, the "other" is never actually in the space with them. The only exception being during their wedding, when their stories finally intersect.
"The Next Ten Minutes" (when Jamie and Cathy's timelines intersect) usually requires direct interaction. Presumably this won't be able to happen here, so how do you intend to approach this number?
Ah yes, the most complicated number to attempt during a lockdown! I had strong ideas for this moment in the show right from the start. It was this section that I really thought through and planned out before even approaching Lambert Jackson with the concept. Of course, myself and Danny cannot actually be together, but with some clever angles, the joys of technology and one heck of an editor (Danny 'with a camera' Kaan), I am hoping we can create the idea that we are in fact together. Watch this space...
You have a new Jamie in Danny Becker this time around. How did the casting of Danny come about?
The wonderful Danny Becker! Our gorgeous Jamie Wellerstein! It was important to both myself and Lambert Jackson that the person in the role understood the importance of representing a Jewish character authentically. And for that reason, we felt like it was important to cast somebody who was Jewish in the role, but more than that, Danny was cast because of his incredible talent. He's the most wonderful actor and performer with a voice that could melt any heart.
Do you have a favourite musical number in the show, either to perform or listen to?
This is a tough one because I'm honestly obsessed with all of the songs! They're so melodic and explore such huge emotions. But I'd say my favourite to sing is "Goodbye Until Tomorrow", and my favourite to listen to is "If I Didn't Believe In You".
You recently marked the 10th anniversary since the BBC's Over the Rainbow with the other final contestants. Do you have fond memories of this time?
From what I remember, yes! I say this because it was the most emotionally charged, nerve-wracking, adrenalin-fuelled time of my life and, as such, I genuinely find parts of it hard to remember. However, I feel so incredibly lucky to have gone on such a journey right at the start of my career. It opened many doors and taught me a great deal about myself - not only a performer, but as a person. I also have friends for life in all the girls. We all still talk regularly.
What have been the highlights of your career over the past decade?
I've had to pinch myself many times over this past decade. Since I was a little girl I've wanted to be a performer in the West End, so really, just achieving that in itself is a career highlight. I had one of the best times of my life getting to rock out as Scaramouche in We Will Rock You, and getting to learn to play football and originate a West End role for Bend It Like Beckham was ridiculously fun.
Finally, I can't let you go without mentioning your recent TikToks, as they are seriously keeping me going through lockdown!
Yay! This is the exact aim! Just trying to bring a bit of joy. I find myself hilarious, so at least one other person does!
The Last Five Years will be streamed for three nights on 25, 26 and 27 June at 7.30pm with tickets priced at £8. For more information and to book tickets, please visit lwtheatres.co.uk/whats-on/the-last-five-years
Check out some of Lauren's hilarious TikToks below!