Jamie and Catherine’s relationship is in a tail spin, but it’s also on the up and up: one character goes forward temporally while the other goes back. We follow Jamie on his journey from young wannabe writer to literary megastar.
Unfortunately, as Jamie’s star power grows a wedge is driven between him and Catherine. Her career as an actress has stalled, and Jamie faces increasing temptation to abandon his wedding vows from his legions of adoring fans.
At first, we see Catherine at the end of a long hard road, and then follow her back to the heady beginning; the proposal, the commitment to follow her dreams. The characters interact in one song at the centre of the evening, on their wedding day.
The Last Five Years has become a cult hit since it was produced off-broadway at the Minetta Theatre in March 2002, where it won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music and Lyrics.
This gem is high on the list of many people’s favourite musicals; and it’s easy to see why. It’s an astonishing piece of writing. Heartfelt and thrilling; at times there wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre.
It feels startlingly original as well (or ‘alive’ in the language of Simon McBurney). This may be attributable to the interesting structure, but is also related to the incredible verisimilitude. The characters and emotional arc just feel so true to life: Jason Robert Brown’s (Book, Music, Lyrics) ex-wife Theresa O’Neill brought legal action against Brown on the basis that the Catherine character was in fact based too closely on her.
That it hasn’t been a bigger smash hit may be attributable to the fact that it’s a two-hander, with an unconventional structure, and comes in at just under an hour and a half, no interval.
Christian Charisiou as Jamie combines his brilliant comic timing with plenty of charm. Elise McCann as Catherine almost makes this look easy: she truly transforms as she goes backwards through time. The greatest tribute to their abilities may be to note the fervent desire they created in the audience for the couple’s relationship to succeed.
If you already know and love this musical, this is a production you won’t want to miss. If you are yet to encounter this unicorn, treat yourself to something a little bit different, you almost certainly won’t regret it.
The Last Five Years
Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli
Performance: Wednesday 3 April 2019 – 8.15pm
Season continues to 27 April 2019
Information and Bookings: www.ensemble.com.au
Image: Christian Charisiou as Jamie and Elise McCann as Catherine star in The Last Five Years – photo by Phil Erbacher
Review: Oliver Wakelin