Friday, 8 May 2009

The Last Five Years - Duchess Theatre

The Last Five Years
Music/Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown

Director: Amelia Sears

Reviewer: Leon Trayman

Jason Robert Brown is a superb musical theatre writer/composer, The Last Five Years is a wonderful story of a Jewish guy, Jamie Wellerstein and the Christian girl he meets, falls in love with, marries and eventually divorces; Cathy Hyatt. It oozes schmaltz, frightening truths about relationships, a little religious reference and a huge helping of the harsh realities of life as a creative; both successful and/or otherwise.

The piece is a two-hander, starring the outstanding Julie Atherton as Cathy and Paul Spicer as Jamie. Their respective plot lines run in opposite directions; hers from the end of the marriage to the first date, and his from the first moment he sees her to the relationship’s unfortunate end, and his infidelity.

The Last Five Years is sung almost entirely, it has no dialogue and very few moments of spoken monologue. The characters soliloquise in song, and the only moment during which there is a connection between them on stage, is during the proposal and wedding section, which is very touching. Amelia Sears’ direction is clean and unfussy and makes good use of Morgan Large’s simple set of a huge wall of windows, two chairs and a small table. As a fan of the musical already (I caught myself silently mouthing the words along at times!) I had never quite heard the calculated side of Jamie, which Spicer and Sears really brought out in the performance, making me feel far more sympathetic for Cathy than I ever had before.

Paul Spicer turns out a measured performance with moments of real sensitivity when he sings, “Have I mentioned today, how lucky I am, to be in love with you”. Sweet on the surface, but only something the young, successful, and prolific writer Jamie could have composed along with the line “I will not fail so you can be comfortable Cathy, I will not lose because you can’t win”!

Julie Atherton is exceptional throughout. She has impeccable comic timing, prompting roars of laughter from the audience several times during ‘I’m A Part Of That’ and ‘Summer In Ohio’. Her cocktail party ‘about to take a sip’ business during the former was expertly performed. She really uses the lyrics to tell Cathy’s story, whilst living through the terrible experiences of the break up of her marriage and her attempts to forge a career as an actress. Atherton changes the timbre and tone of her voice when singing narrative in another character’s voice with skill and incredible versatility.

This production is sadly only on for 7 performances at The Duchess Theatre, Catherine Street, but if you have the opportunity to go and see it, go. The music is beautifully written, the lyrics are clever and funny and you will be humming sections of the score for days!

The Last Five Years runs at the Duchess until Sun 10th May

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