The Last Five Years

Tue 16th – Sat 20th October 2012

reviews

Lauren Hutchinson

at 01:35 on 17th Oct 2012

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“A musical? With only two people? How does that work?” begin Atri Bannerjee’s director's notes for 'The Last Five Years’. A highly affecting and unconventional musical, Jason Robert Brown’s well loved off-broadway gem tells the five-year story of a journey in and out of love, for Jamie, a rising novelist and Cathy, a struggling actress. The narrative, told chronologically by Jamie (Guy Woolf) and in reverse by Cathy (Rochelle Thomas) is fuelled with passion and full of fantastically written solo numbers which require the upmost in energy and characterisation from both members of the cast. Holding together a show this emotionally weighty with only two people is no mean feat and is recognised as an extremely rare way of presenting ‘musical theatre’. When considered theoretically, The Last Five Years, referred to by Banerjee as an ‘anti-musical’, should have left the audience feeling confused and unfulfilled. In practice, it did the exact opposite.

In the divided space of the Corpus Playroom, the piece is set in an almost purgatorial world of Jamie and Cathy’s relationship. With no set changes, all feeling of motion and time really had to come from the actors themselves and all I can say is, they did a stunning job.

From the moment Guy Woolf steps on stage for his first number, ‘Shiksa Goddess’, his charisma is electrifying and every member of the audience seemed charmed by his easy air and enigmatic storytelling. I felt at first that it took Woolf a considerable amount of time to seem truly settled on the stage, but with further observation realised that this was actually a performance complimentary to his character's progression. By the time he sings ‘Resist Temptation’, the song which I felt really cemented his role as Jamie, his movements on the stage no longer seemed uncalculated and aimless but grew to be measured and tight. His vocal was practically flawless and showed a great capacity to perform comfortably with a great range. His best acting, I felt, came in his final solo performance, ‘Nobody Needs to Know’, where the torment and strain of the show’s events seemed to take complete hold of him. The ability Woolf had to make his characters transition from the first scene to the last absolutely believable was remarkable and to be commended.

Rochelle Thomas did unfortunately suffer the impracticalities of some technical malfunctions so was inaudible for the better part of some songs. However, this rarely, if ever, detracted from her truly stunning performance. Highlighted most impressively in the second half of ‘See I’m Smiling’ and ‘A Summer in Ohio’, the audience is witness to how fantastically Thomas displays each shade of Cathy’s personality. Her feisty indignation parallels beautifully with her playful joy and sarcasm, forming a well rounded and captivating individual. Her audition sequence during ‘Climbing Uphill’ was, I felt, her starring moment, where both her incredible breath control and vocal technique were in competition with her exquisite acting.

Although both actors gave standout performances, accompanied by a cohesive and talented four piece band, I didn’t feel that The Last Five Years succeeded in making the relationship between the characters as believable as the characters themselves were. With only one point, in the middle of the musical, where the two actually perform to each other, establishing a strong and intimate connection was undoubtedly a sizeable task. The two stories ran alongside each other effectively, working brilliantly independently and providing fleeting moments of absolute magic between Woolf and Thomas, but their existence seemed to ultimately serve as an indication of all the times the connection wasn't quite so electric.

As a whole however, The Last Five Years stands as a performance both cast and crew should be extremely proud of. With one story pre-empting the end of the other, the cyclical nature of relationships and the fragile nature of human attachment never seemed more evident to me. Tackling the nature of love, life and loss with the integrity, honesty and painful beauty achieved by this ensemble, is rare and well worth a watch.

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