Venue: The Drama Barn
Run: May 21 to May 23 2010
Rating: * * * * *
An emotionally compelling and musically magnificent portrayal of Jason Robert Brown’s one act musical The Last Five Years with its intense exploration of the marriage of the flourishing novelist Jamie Wellerstein (Joe Hufton) to the sadly suffering actress Cathy Hyatt (Laura Horton) which was based on Brown’s failed marriage to Theresa O’Neill.
Having read the synopsis explaining that Cathy commences the action at the painful conclusion to the relationship and proceeds via reverse chronology while Jamie begins at its exuberant and uplifting first blossoming and in a straight forward chronology with their timelines meeting mid-play for a heartfelt wedding song, the audience waiting to enter the darkened and atmospheric bedroom scene of the Drama Barn pondered out loud how this effect may be achieved through the staging.
The action of the play was initially played solitarily in alternation between the two principles. This expressed the emotional distance between the characters mindsets and their other interactions were effective conveyed by placing one actor on mute or by creating a sense of both Jamie and Cathy communicating across their timelines to provoke a more truthful and compelling feeling for the audience. For example, in the plays final song the word ‘Goodbye’ not only indicated a close of the plays action to the spectator but expressed an uncomfortable and evocative juxtaposition to be considered. While Jamie’s vocalisation of ‘Goodbye’ signified the literal end to his marriage to Cathy, her ‘Goodbye until tomorrow’ by being placed alongside his meaning was exposed as beautiful and fatal, vulnerable and naively hopeful.
From the moment Laura, dejected and trembling, sat up and grasped Jamie’s last letter with lips that quivered and a tantalisingly truthful tone and inflection to her voice the audience were ready to cry and delight with her. I myself let a tear slip and a dismayed expression warped my features before I remembered the other half of the audience was facing me directly, at which point I realised I was not the only one affected or impressed by her talent; she projected to fill the Drama Barn with her voice and Cathy’s overwhelming emotion.
Joe particularly entertained viewers in the bar scene where Jamie professes to the audience ‘you know I love her,’ while ogling other women that aren’t his wife and who appear to only notice him now he’s unavailable. Joe’s comical expressions and easy and conversational tone (while singing) to the spectator embodied the eye rolling frustrated married male caricature and forced the crowd to laugh-out-loud knowingly, sharing an understanding in his sentiment.
The connection established between the two principle (and only speaking) characters in the play was especially relatable. This seemed remarkably real during ‘The Schmuel Song’ in which Jamie told Cathy one of his stories that was underpinned by a strong message for her to pursue her dreams with vigour in order to achieve the happiness he craved for their relationship. The directorial use of staging (Jonathan Carr) to interact the characters in the absence of dialogue reflected Jamie’s changes of tact from seriousness to humour. The rise and fall, and mixture of comedy and desperation conveyed by Joe reflected the voice and mannerisms of Jamie’s desire to be heard and understood by his wife. The delighted audience were torn between observing Laura’s utterly besotted and amused face with an undercurrent of reprimand to her husband’s frivolity and watching Joe’s enthusiastic telling of the story of Schmuel is absurdly ordered by his clock to follow for his dream.
The music directed by Jamie Oliver, was excellent and must have been exhausting for the orchestra whose faces were softly illuminated by their music lights, which though incidental was a lovely touch that highlighted how integral they were to the success of this piece. As far as I am aware they played without error and certainly demonstrated unfaltering passion for the many genres of Brown’s musical; including Pop, Jazz, Classical, Klezmer, Latin, Rock and Folk.
‘Emotionally compelling and musically magnificent!’ An entirely earned Five Stars for both cast and orchestra.