I adored so many aspects of the Artform’s production of The Last Five Years: its intimate venue; the simple stage design; and the moving performances. In this two-person musical, we see the bittersweet rise and fall of Cathy and Jamie’s five-year relationship. It was honest, raw and heart-breaking.
The Last Five Years is unique in the way that it plays with the order in which the story unfolds: Cathy’s perspective is revealed in reverse, whilst Jamie’s is chronological. So much like in Romeo and Juliet, we know that the fate of the pair is ultimately doomed from the outset. However, the contemporary twist is that this relationship ends in divorce. What this does is counterpoint the good times in their history with the bad; we plainly see how the person who can make you feel a rush of unbridled joy at the start can also make you feel drained and feeling worthless by the end.
The Broadway Studio Theatre out in Catford, South East London doesn’t boast complex lighting or a sophisticated stage set up. There are a few set pieces, props and a raised stage at the back. Cathy and Jamie perform at opposing ends of the stage and meet in the middle when their stories briefly intersect. It was simple yet effective staging and just what the show needed. The music section was also small, but did justice in delivering the gorgeous Jason Robert Brown score. Hearing the melodies live, it’s clear to see why this show has become a cult favourite.
Nicola Henderson plays Cathy, the struggling actress, with honest sincerity. I know the score quite well and so it was refreshing to see how Nicola delivered lines to make me see certain scenes in a new light. She has a powerhouse voice and so could effortlessly belt in ballads such as ‘I’m Still Hurting’. She also brings out the playful and comedic side of Cathy in the song ‘Climbing Uphill’, which showcases the crazy and tormenting day to day reality of an aspiring actress.
Her partner, Jamie Wellerstein, is played by Daniel Lawrence. I think Daniel settles more into the role in the second half when the cracks in the relationship start to appear. When we first meet Jamie, he is an excitable young writer completely besotted with his Shiska Goddess. But as he achieves success in his career which Cathy hasn’t able been to, he transforms to being short-tempered, restless and agitated, and the contrast is harrowing to see.
One of the most poignant numbers is Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You, where by the finale, Jamie and Cathy both say goodbye to one another but with different intentions. Cathy, fresh from one of her first dates with Jamie, wistfully says a parting goodbye as in see you soon, while Jamie says his final goodbye to Cathy as he’s ready to move out of their apartment for good. Cathy talks about how the stars have aligned and ‘everything makes sense’, while Jamie is at the end of his tether. His ‘goodbye’ is menacing, and in the music, it’s almost as if he’s trying to interrupt the joyous Cathy from five years prior. It was a stirring scene which left me speechless.
Since first discovering and being enamoured with The Last Five Years cast recording, I have patiently waited for almost six years to see this show staged. Now that I’ve finally seen it, I can say that it did not disappoint. It’s true that sometimes the shows which are the most special, aren’t necessarily in the West End but in smaller venues. From the moment the lights went down and the opening chords rang in the air, I was completely transported. If this show had a longer run, it’s definitely one that I would have liked to have seen more than once.