The unravelling of a couple’s relationship is often played out for all the world to see, with its simmering arguments, startling confessions, and a ‘he said, she said’ airing of dirty laundry. But it is a case of ‘he sang, she sang’ in Jason Robert Brown’s musical, The Last Five Years, which opened last night at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Kathryn Merritt was there to witness the domestic upheaval…
The Last Five Years chronicles the relationship of aspiring Jewish writer Jamie (Damien Humbley) and struggling actress Cathy (Lara Pulver), who meet, fall hopelessly in love, get married and split up, all in the course of five years. But their stories are not told in a typical way. Through alternating musical numbers and perspectives, Jamie's story begins at the time of their first meeting and progresses to their painful split, while Cathy's story is presented backward, moving from the end of their relationship to the first sparks of romance. Their stories only meet in the middle, when Jamie asks Cathy to share his life in marriage.
The story ‘begins’ with Cathy alone in the flat that she once shared with Jamie. Their marriage has just come to an end. But how did they come to this and where did it all go wrong? For the next 80 minutes of this one-act musical, the audience is treated to an insider’s glimpse of the ups and downs of a modern relationship: from their first date (where Jamie is ecstatic to have found his “Shiksa Goddess” and she is clearly enamoured with the energetic writer) to their bittersweet goodbyes.
The intimate setting of the Menier adds to the intimacy of a couple’s life together, with the musicians discreetly tucked away behind a screen, accompanying Jamie and Cathy’s musical soliloquies as their relationship unfolds before us. The minimalism of David Farley’s set design, with the marital bed in prominence centre stage, also reminds us that we are seeing the ‘bare bones’ of Jamie and Cathy’s life together. The revolving stage not only progresses the action but also plays a symbolic role as we witness a marriage going nowhere.
With the shifting time perspectives the audience knows well ahead of time that it will all end in tears. But this is made all the more poignant at the end of the play, when, as Cathy’s first date with Jamie is coming to an end, the story shifts to Jamie, alone in the flat, preparing to move out. While she says a hopeful goodbye for the night, we know he is saying goodbye for ever.
The Last Five Years runs at the Menier until 30 September.