This musical was composed by American Jason Robert Brown and is, apparently, closely autobiographical and is based on a failed relationship. It opened on Broadway in 2001 and has been regularly revived and produced all over the world ever since. A well-received film version was released in the UK in April. All this attests to the popularity and success of The Last Five Years.
A familiar story is told in an unusual way: two 20-somethings meet, fall in love, marry and then break-up – all in the space of five years. What is different about the story-telling is that Cathy (Ali James) begins her account at the end of the relationship while Jamie (Olly Gourley) starts from the beginning. Both actors are on stage most of the time but rarely directly address each other – chronologically their stories coincide only when they marry. The songs they sing are essentially monologues – addressed to the other but not directly answered.
This device is a bold and daring one – because it removes much of the immediate tension, the joys and arguments, from the developing relationship. We hear each side of the story but the two accounts are not immediately juxtaposed.
Cathy is struggling to build a career as an actress – in one scene she is auditioning for a part and failing to convince. Jamie, on the other hand, is enjoying professional success as a writer. Cathy becomes jealous of her husband – who finds it hard to resist the temptations of other women – but Jamie insists that he has confidence in his wife’s talent.
This production works very well: Ali James and Olly Gourley are strong, confident singers who catch the changing emotions successfully. The small, on-stage band – sensitively led and directed by Ashton Moore – plays the score (which draws on pop, jazz, blues, klezmer and folk idioms) brightly throughout. Sallie Warrington directs in an unfussy way – so that we can focus clearly on the unfolding stories. Natalie Jackson’s design is flexible and and imaginatively lit by Rob Watson.
The Last Five Years is accessible and a skilled piece of musical drama. Elite Productions is a young company and it is to hoped that it will be back in Derbyshire soon.
This production can be seen until June 13. For tickets go to http://www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk
By Keith Savage