Within seconds, the crowd for the 5pm showing of Liverpool Theatre Festival’s The Last Five Years is silent. A lot of them haven’t realised the play has started yet but, without a word, the two actors have grabbed their attention.
The audience is greeted by a minimal set: two chairs, a table adorned with a book and a box of tissues, a keyboardist in the background. Almost a reflection of St Luke’s Bombed Out Church, the haunting and historic venue where the play is being shown, there is an immediate sense of foreboding in the faces of Jamie (Graham Tudor) and Cathy (Helen Noble). It is hard to believe that the two are in love, yet, in its 75 minute run time, the play takes you through an emotional journey through their five year relationship, with Jamie showcasing the joyous moments from their first meeting onwards and Cathy taking the audience through the tragic ones in reverse.
The love story is illustrated through Jordan Alexander’s brilliant musical score, as the audience is treated to almost Danny from Grease-esque songs from Jamie, full of swinging hips and cheeky smirks to the audience, and songs with a sensitive, though at times spiky, edge to them from Cathy. Though a love story with minimal dialogue might not sound convincing, the songs prove to be emotional, powerful and extremely honest, so even the cynics amongst the audience (myself included) can see there is love there.
Luckily, the interesting plot is delivered fantastically as real-life married couple Noble and Tudor excel in showcasing feelings that many couples feel regarding each other: love, frustration, joy, irritation, jealousy, temptation. They might share the stage plenty of times but, for the most part, they do not engage with each other, which creates a sense of isolation but also a sense of longing that never proves to be fulfilled.
Whilst it is a story about love, it is also a story about success. Jamie is a writer, slowly gaining more and more accolades and praise whilst Cathy is an actor, slowly losing role after role. As Jamie’s career takes on new heights, Cathy becomes more isolated and doubtful of her career and herself. The love story might feel a mile off for some but feelings of joy and, in contrast, uncertainty regarding our career (or lack thereof) is something a lot of people will find relatable, particularly over this past year or so.
At a time when our romantic relationships are under the spotlight, The Last Five Years is a searingly honest showcase of love blossoming and the same love getting lost. Though you could sense the end was coming, you couldn’t help but want more of the story—all a testament to Jason Robert Brown’s unique and engaging craft.
Words by Jen Rose
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