And there will be love, love, love
29 March 2018
Joanna Trainor gives a fan's perspective on The Last Five Years
“You don’t have to put the seat down...”
Yes you do Jamie, Yes. You. Do.
It’s easy to forget how much of a dick the character of Jamie Willerstein is in The Last Five Years, particularly when an actor as endearing as Elliot Mather is playing him. But realistically Jamie is just the absolute worst. You cannot call someone you’ve just slept with “kid” and it is not cool to miss your wife’s birthday, also the whole cheating thing. It needs to be said.
It turns out not everyone knows Jason Robert Brown’s song cycle quite as well as perhaps the stagier among us do. This review is coming from the perspective of someone who loves JRB’s music and could play both characters should Tone Deaf Theatre Company need an understudy at any point.
Bella Elwes provides incredible musical direction. Her and the band are the absolute stars of this show. There’s that moment at the beginning of the "The Next Ten Minutes" when the strings come in and it’s magic – they capture that perfectly. That little bit of hope in the middle of such a tumultuous relationship all captured in a cello line. They are so polished and professional it is like seeing the pit at a West End show.
The music in The Last Five Years is challenging, there’s no bones about it. Rosie Dart and Elliot Mather have powerful, if somewhat underdeveloped voices. They strain themselves at times, which is concerning, but their performances and charisma do mostly make up for that. The actors could definitely benefit from some more focused direction at times though; there’s a lot of bounding around for no real reason. It’s a difficult piece to stage with the separate timelines going on, and it was lacking a directorial focus that could have helped with the clarity of that.
That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty to like about this production. There is such joy in Mather’s performance. In “Shiksa Goddess” and “The Schmuel Song” his energy is limitless. And Dart’s comic timing gets her plenty of laughs when she’s facing the trials of the acting industry in “Climbing Uphill”.
It will never be the wrong place or time to watch a beautiful musical. JRB's song cycle captures so many of ideas and issues we have been confronted with at NSDF this week: loneliness, the pain of failure, the power of relationships, the need for something. And he does it all with a jazzy bassline.
Photo credit: Aenne Pallasca