Fitzpatrick Hall, Queens’ College – 7.45pm Tues 2nd- Sat 6th March 2010
This term has seen two of the most popular of the modern chamber musicals appear in Cambridge. Firstly in week three at the ADC, audiences were witness to I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, a musical-sketch comedy containing around forty different characters played by four actors. The Last Five Years, therefore, offers an excellent companion piece to the term’s earlier modern musical fare. In the show, Robert Brown explores the disintegration of Jamie and Cathy’s marriage through the novel structural device of having Jamie tell his side of the story in chronological order (spanning five years) whilst Cathy, starting from the end, finishes her story at the beginning. This is a production which succeeds in performing some of the material with great ease and accomplishment, however on opening night, it wasn’t able to hit the emotional top notes that Robert Brown’s material requires.
There is a terrific pressure placed upon the two actors – Catherine Harrison and Dan Garsin – given that not only are they tasked with maintaining the audience’s attention with the same two characters for the duration of the performance, but also because the musical is through-sung. Both Harrison and Garsin’s voices are well suited for the show, and their American accents are pleasingly assured. It took Harrison a little while to get into her performance, but once she did she was eminently watchable and cut a highly sympathetic figure by the very end of the play. Whilst she dealt well with the more intimate moments, Garsin was less comfortable here, and there was a distinct lack of chemistry and passion between the two characters. Garsin came into his own in the more light-hearted numbers; his voice perfectly suiting the comic numbers ‘The Schmuel Song’ and ‘A Miracle Would Happen’. Their mutual ease and intimacy will hopefully come as the run progresses.
Whilst I felt there were another couple of gears that both Harrison and Garsin could yet move up into, Robert Jacobs’ band was in fine form throughout. It was nice to see them on stage really enjoying the music, and all the instrumentalists played with verve, accuracy, and compassion. The music was well directed, and the Fitzpatrick sound system and the production’s sound team work were impeccable, getting the balance between the microphoned actors and band spot-on.
Technically, the show was highly competent, and lighting was well utilised throughout, especially with the use of spots – the last moments of the production were notable in this regard. The set, though lacking a little in warmth, was largely effective, and I was pleased by its multi-purpose simplicity. Inexplicably, however, once the play’s material began to wane toward the end of the musical, and the audience’s attention began to lag, the directors moved all of the action to the back of the stage. Rather than attempting to arrest our attention, there was a good twenty minute dip in the energy of the performance as the production failed to compensate for what should have been an obvious moment to engage its audience. Having said this, the opening half was well choreographed, and the direction and lighting combined well in places to produce some memorable images. When it really counted, however, there was a lack of attention to detail.
This is a production which will grow in stature as the audience begins to grow alongside it. It has many positive features and is enjoyable musical entertainment, yet for it to really stand out it needs to pack more of an emotional punch and not be afraid to leave its comfort zone.