Review: The Last Five Years

Image credit: Oscar Yang

The Last Five Years begins with strong emotions, a heart-felt song from the main character Cathy (Lucy Dickson). The musical is unusual in that it only has two characters, and it focuses on their doomed relationship, and the first song sets the audience up for this tragic exploration, expressing Cathy's heartbreak since the departure of her husband Jamie (Robin Franklin).

The play is cleverly structured, with the two principle characters taking it in turns to narrate their story in reverse order: Cathy from break-up to first meeting, Jamie from first-meeting to break-up. This opposition creates a wonderful contrast within the play, with the characters bouncing off each other’s emotions, throwing the audience from high mood to low as the play runs its course.

The set design is smart and artistic, and helps to bring out the subtleties of the characters' relationship. For the majority of the time Cathy and Jamie are separate, with one behind a curtain whilst the other sings, and this conveys well the emotional distance between them, emphasises the differences in the narratives they present. The choice to leave the stage mostly empty means that the characters themselves are very much at the forefront of the performance, and their movements and voices are mesmerising. 

Different emotional extremes are conveyed well, and the mixture of Jamie’s humourous dances and hilarious songs, and Cathy’s heart-wrenching love story is very strong. Perhaps the most emotionally charged moment is in the midpoint of the play, when the two characters are united on stage with the curtain no longer separating them. This artistic decision visually communicates the one perfect moment in the relationship, and heightens the play's preoccupation with understanding. This is a musical that keeps the audience constantly on their toes, trying to comprehend the contradictory perspectives from which the story is told and searching for the truth.

The Last Five Years is a wonderful play, with captivating music and actors who are both engaging and amusing. Despite its simplicity in terms of set and and cast size, the musical is insightful, gradually highlighting the characters' many layers of emotions. The singing is faultless, the acting fantastic, and the audience is drawn into the story and empathises with the emotional journey.


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