first night

The Last 5 Years

Rebecca Flynn finds a satisfyingly sober way to spend a Wednesday evening.

I was scoffed at when I asked if anyone wanted to see a two-man musical with me on a Wednesday night. To pass up on Loveshack Wednesdays, the alternative has to be truly exceptional. From the disappointing turnout on the first night of The Last 5 Years, I suspect many people were preparing mentally and physically for the night ahead. This was such a shame, as this play was one of the best productions I have seen whilst at Durham.

Firstly, the plot of James Robert Brown’s musical is more complex and engaging than my initial assessment of it allowed.  The Last 5 Years charts the relationship of novelist Jamie (James Hyde) and actress Cathy (Nat Goodwin) in an innovative way, as the audience simultaneously watches Cathy’s point of view from break-up to meeting, and Jamie’s journey from love at first sight to the final goodbye. However, although the audience knows the ending from the beginning, the production remains extremely engaging.

The fact that the couple only substantially interact with each other in the intersecting wedding scene means that there is often only one person on stage, with no dance sequences or chorus numbers. However, the production was rarely static as John Muething’s innovative blocking and dynamic direction resulted in what was, I suppose, a purer musical. I loved the shadow screen, which created an intimate stage space and depicted moving memories such as the wedding waltz. The screen worked so well that it was a shame that it wasn’t utilised more to link the corresponding songs before and after the marriage scene.

The set was extremely effective, with the space divided through two tall sets of shelves, so that Cathy’s space was stage right and Jamie’s stage left. The ominous suitcase – forever on stage – distressingly reminded me, when I became lost in the romance, that the marriage would fall apart no matter what. Dan Gosselin’s lighting was impeccably designed, as atmospheric hanging light bulbs adorned the stage, crisp spotlights highlighted the couple’s disconnection and there were even Christmas fairy lights!

Goodwin was on-point from her opening of ‘Still Hurting’, which gave me goose bumps. Unfortunately, Hyde’s opening wasn’t quite as affecting as I couldn’t hear the words of ‘I Could Be in Love With Someone Like You’ which he sang to the wings; however, by ‘Moving Too Fast’ he simultaneously sang out and addressed an invisible Cathy.  Sometimes the pair need to be careful, in duets, not to compete. However, both actors are undeniably talented, and for once proved that Durham students can do American accents! On the whole, the musical numbers were impeccable and this was the only musical I’ve seen in the Assembly rooms where the band did not drown out the singing. Well done, Chris Guard!

I will remember this production for a long time – certainly for longer than those frequenting Loveshack will remember tonight!

Rebecca Flynn


Another Perspective

I love watching musicals, but when I was presented with the idea of a musical revolving around only two actors I was initially dubious. However, after watching Tone Deaf Theatre Company’s production of James Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years, all doubts have dissipated. The musical was surprisingly engaging and captivating throughout, mostly due to the stage presence of the actors and the musical accompaniment in the form of a live band, which sustained the atmosphere and maintained the foreboding tone.

This relatively new musical centres around a couple’s relationship over the course of 5 years and how it deteriorates when the man’s writing career takes off while his wife continues to struggle with her acting career. However, the same can not be said for Nat Goodwin who played the part of Kathy, Jamie’s wife, who was enthralling.  Both Kathy and Jamie (James Hyde) put in dazzling performances and Hyde seemed to focus all of his energy into the performance as one scene saw him bounding around the stage when his career takes off – a complete contrast to Goodwin, who even when happy remains fairly reserved. Yet this contrast worked nicely and built up sympathy within the audience who knew this relationship would be short-lived. The musical charts their relationship in opposite chronological order as Kathy begins at the end of their marriage and works backwards, whilst Jamie begins at the start of their relationship and works forward. This time difference could have been presented in a clearer way in certain scenes, but overall it was obvious at which stage in their relationship they were when they started singing. The singing is also worth praising, as they both maintained a high level throughout. Although Hyde took a couple of songs to get going – he was initially quite inaudible against the band – as the musical progressed, they both demonstrated their full potential.  

The set design also worked well, as it enabled Kathy and Jamie to remain separate from each other as Kathy remained on stage right and Jamie on stage left. They both had a set of tall shelves each, which held most of the props used in the performance. The only integration between the two came in the marriage scene halfway through, in which there was a beautiful duet between the two of them as Kathy places the ring on his finger, they dance a few steps of a waltz and the scene is over as soon as it has begun and they part reluctantly.  Another one of my favourite features of the production was a screen towards the back of the stage, which enabled the couple to create silhouettes at pinnacle points through out the piece. This was used effectively at the beginning to create the idea of the loving couple, but also later on as a reminder to Jamie when he starts receiving more female attention.

For me the ending is the pivotal point of the piece, when both actors truly shine and for John Muething (director) was a moment of pure genius, as he utilizes the juxtaposing songs by Jamie and Kathy to engage the audience’s emotions. Whilst Kathy is sweetly singing “Goodbye till tomorrow”, Jamie is singing his final goodbyes, with this scene presenting the couple at juxtaposing times in their relationship. The song cleverly alternates between the different goodbyes until both Kathy and Jamie are highlighted in two spotlights and they both sing a goodbye together. This powerful ending left me with a great feeling of catharsis and was due in part to Dan Gosselin’s superb lighting, which was truly atmospheric, as he used hanging lights draped over the shelves and spotlights to add a more sombre mood to the piece.

I found this a thoroughly enjoyable musical and will never doubt the power of two again!

Felicity McDowall





18 October 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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