The Duchess theatre might just be the perfect West End venue for The Last 5 Years, its intimate auditorium drawing the audience into the heart of Jason Robert Brown’s two-handed tale of a five year relationship.
The twist in the story of writer Jamie and actress Cathy is that while he moves in a chronologically correct direction, she tells the story in reverse, the two only meeting in the middle for their proposal and marriage.
While this lack of interaction sounds an unlikely way forward for a piece focused entirely on a relationship, Brown’s simple, truthful lyrics and performances of songs as halves of conversations or letter writing illuminates the pair’s emotions as effectively as any dialogue.
Morgan Large’s simple set, the most basic of New York apartments, ensures that nothing distracts from the performances and the story. In Julie Atherton and Paul Spicer, stalwarts of the Notes From New York series of shows, The Last 5 Years has a duo at home with each other on stage.
As the rising writer whose dreams are coming true, Spicer, with his chiseled jaw and stubble, has a touch of the all-American boy about him, while Atherton, who returns to Avenue Q when it re-opens next month, once again excels at drawing every ounce of humour from Brown’s often witty lyrics.
While there are many laughs, it is the emotional heart of the story that strikes the hardest, as the clarity of love that Jamie and Cathy have for each other is severely tested by the circumstances life throws their way.