There are very few people who can say that they are strangers to heartbreak. The gentle sniffles and the surreptitious wiping of eyes among audience members at the opening night of The Last Five Years, by Jason Robert Brown was testament to that. His musical tells the story of Cathy and Jamie in love and of all the wild emotions that go along with it, but he tells it in a unique way, with Cathy starting at the bitter end of their marriage and Jamie wrapped up in the infatuation of the first meeting.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story, I can see how the chronology may be difficult to follow, but some creative choices from Director, Belinda Dunbar meant that the two characters were able to interact with each other on stage just enough to facilitate our understanding of the journey. Although they occasionally addressed each other, the only moment they touched was when their paths crossed in time, at the wedding.
The band had an almighty job to play for the 90 minute duration as there is virtually no dialogue or silence. Musical Director and Pianist, Tim Cunniffe coordinated the stringed instruments to perfection. The music was beautifully executed and balanced.
This is an incredibly difficult score to sing and requires a lot of both vocalists, but Sharon Wisniewski (Cathy) and Brendan Hanson (Jamie) both had some really powerful moments. Wisniewski was able to generate a sense of raw emotion in her vocal performance, with her expressive face drawing me in even further. It wasn’t only the distress she was able to master though; her performance of “the audition sequence” was a comic highlight. My favourite section from Hanson was The Schmuel Song. Not only was his delivery sincere and fun, but this was one of the rare, lighter moments in the show.
With such a disjointed script pattern and precious little dialogue or interaction, there was a great responsibility on the director and the actors themselves to carry the audience with them on their journey. While the cabaret styled space “Downstairs at his Maj” can be a bit of a challenge with regards to acoustics and sightlines, it is very intimate and suited this production well. Dunbar did all she could with the blocking and lighting to maximise the sense of inclusion, and generate empathy which is necessary for a show like this to have full effect.
The hospitable FOH and bar staff added to making this a pleasant evening at the theatre. Here are a couple of tips that may further enhance your experience: book early and secure a table closer to the front, and then arrive in plenty of time to get the forward facing seats and enjoy a platter and glass of wine.
The Brainbox Project presents
THE LAST FIVE YEARS
Written and Composed by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Belinda Dunbar
Venue: DownStairs at the Maj, His Majesty’s Theatre 825 Hay St, Perth
Dates: Tuesday 18 - Saturday 29 May 2010
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing 9484 1133 | bocsticketing.com.au