The Last Five Years is a one act, contemporary musical written by Jason Robert Brown, based on his experiences in his first marriage. The story explores the five-year relationship between a rising novelist, Jamie Wellerstein, and an aspiring actress, Cathy Hiatt. Although, the trajectory of the characters relationship is told from both perspectives with opposing timelines. Jamie tells his story chronologically; from start to finish, whereas Cathy recounts their relationship in reverse order; beginning at the couples break up and ending the show at the conclusion of their first date.
Geelong Lyric Theatre Society’s performance showcased this concept of storytelling with ease, eliminating interaction between the couple until the audience’s perception of the non-linear storylines was clear. Inevitably this separation created an inaugural moment in the show where Cathy and Jamie finally interreact, making the song ‘For the Next Ten Minutes’ a highlight of the production and a pivotal moment in the story.
Director Paul Watson cleverly stages the pair around a chorus of cabaret style chairs, each representing various locations and implied persons. The space was brought to life by a myriad of traditional household furniture and cardboard boxes symbolising the various states in the couple’s relationship timeline: moving in, moving out and finally, moving on. The symmetrical nature of the static set combined with the furniture stylistically hung from above elegantly emphasised the parallels between the two characters storylines. This stylistic decision both engaged and encouraged the audience to reflect on the pair’s relationship, whilst showcasing the effectiveness of a simplified set design.
Ultimately, the success of Geelong Lyric Theatre Society’s production comes down to their casting choices. Local talent Nick Addison plays the role of Jamie with a flirtatious charm and enviable vocal ability, while Georgina Walker plays Cathy as considerably charismatic, utilising her sublimely expressive tone and natural acting ability.
Both Addison and Walker remain onstage for the entirety of the show, each performing vocally challenging songs back-to-back. Their impressive stamina was seemingly effortless as both actors played their parts with conviction, contrasting the light-hearted comedic moments with the darker expressive moments. Despite their lack of interaction throughout the piece, the couple share a silent intimacy expressed through the nature of their story telling. Both actors authentically communicate the relationship between Jamie and Cathy, delivering their characters journey with honesty and class.
The most impressive part of this show however is the score itself. The musical genius of Jason Robert Brown is challenging for the most professional of musicians. Although, musical director Brad Treloar and his five-piece band seemed undoubtedly confident in their ability to play through the score without a hitch. Situated upstage, the band masterfully accompanied the performers whilst simultaneously servicing the traditional cabaret style of this song cycle. Their interpretation of the score was seemingly flawless, a testament to their musicianship and Treloar’s outstanding musical direction.
The overall design of this show was beautiful. The combination of sets, properties, costuming and lighting worked cohesively to craft a compelling piece of theatre. There were, however, several instances where I questioned the necessity of the intricate lighting design. I became increasingly distracted throughout the performance by the constant lighting changes in sections of songs where I personally would deem unnecessary. Though the lighting features, for the most part, where effective in creating variation in mood, often opposing different sides of the stage, as well as effectively isolating moments and characters.
The Last Five Years is playing at the Peter Cannon Performing Arts Centre until the 5th of October for another four performances, with a special understudy performance on Thursday the 4th of October by their cover cast; Charlie McIntyre as Jamie, and Shani Clarke as Cathy. Audiences are also invited to attend an informative Q&A session after every show with cast and creatives.
Geelong Lyric Theatre Society have produced a superb piece of community theatre. Their interpretation of The Last Five Years showcases professionalism by both cast and creatives and is not to be missed.
Book your tickets at: https://www.glts.asn.au/shows/the-last-5-years-2019/
Review by Charlotte Crowley