Attempting to portray the intensity of love and heartbreak through the medium of a musical is a very ambitious task. Add to that the complexity of a narrative that follows the life of one character in chronological order and the life of the other in reverse chronological order and you have the potential for theatrical disaster. Luckily, the talented directors avoided catastrophe to deliver a version of The Last Five Years worthy of praise.
Kezia Lock and Samuel Newhouse responded to the challenge of Jason Robert Brown’s musical with a moving depiction of the rise and fall of a modern relationship. Their skilfulness was matched by the excellent performances from Heather Young and Nick Barstow. The combination of superb directing and powerful acting resulted in a fascinating exploration of the frailty of love.
Barstow’s interpretation of Jamie Wellerstein was undoubtedly the most successful element of the play. It is no mean feat to render sympathetic a character that is shown to have caused such anguish to his former wife and Barstow was inspiring in his ability to create a realistic representation of an imperfect human. His portrayal of the narcissistic and over-ambitious Jamie was balanced by his enduring charisma and the agony exposed in the final scenes.
Equally commendable was Young’s performance. The difficulties involved in portraying a relationship from the breakdown to the first moments of infatuation were mostly masked by Young’s touching portrayal of a woman desperately clinging on to a love that is slowly, yet constantly, slipping away from her. Throughout the play Young maintained the focus on Cathy’s sacrifices, giving a strong indication of the causes of the relationship’s failure.
Whilst the acting was exceptional, the play was not wholly perfect. There were several moments at which the chronology became confusing. However, these problems were due to the lack of technical components, which will soon be added to the performance. The incorporation of projections of the key dates in the play should remedy this issue entirely.
The orchestra were incredible in their ability to simultaneously emphasise the joy experienced at the beginning of the relationship and the frustration felt by Jamie and Cathy during the breakdown. Again, there were occasional fumbles made by the orchestra but none so serious that they could not be prevented by further practice in the run up to the first performance.
Ultimately, I was amazed by the ability of the directors to successfully retain the poignancy of the play whilst staying true to the structure of the musical. The Last Five Years is a wonderful production that is well worth a view.