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The Last Five Years – Review

Jaime (Fraser Findlay) and Cathy (Vanessa De Jager) finally see eye to eye during The Next Ten Minutes, the crossover point in their two versions of the story.
Jaime (Fraser Findlay) and Cathy (Vanessa De Jager) finally see eye to eye during The Next Ten Minutes, the crossover point in their two versions of the story. Photo: Miles Thompson

Teatro Vivaldi’s Theatre Restaurant last Friday Night was host to local theatre company Dramatic Productions inaugural performance.

They set the standard very high, undertaking a professional production of The Last Five Years, one of the toughest assignments in contemporary musical theatre.

The dinner and show package made for an enchanting evening, as the audience was escorted through the modern musical world of Jaime Wellerstein (Fraser Findlay) and Cathy Hiatt’s (Vanessa De Jager) doomed marriage.

The narrative itself is not the crucial element of telling this challenging story. The show begins with Cathy discovering her husband has left her and that she has been left to pick up the pieces of her broken life.

Instead, the unique feature of the musical is the way the two-person, all-sung story is told. Cathy tells her version of events starting from the end of the marriage, with a farewell letter from Jaime, and working back to the beginning of the relationship when she is full of energy and excitement about its potential. Conversely, Jamie tells his story starting from just before his first date with Cathy and concludes with him ending their time together permanently, leaving the flat with his suitcase in hand.

When combined with Jason Robert Brown’s touching score, the audience is faced with the highs and lows of being in love, and carried from laughter to tears and back again, taking the audience on an emotional rollercoaster.

Cathy (De Jager) is heartbroken from the very beginning of The Last Five Years.
Cathy (De Jager) is heartbroken from the very beginning of The Last Five Years. Photo: Miles Thompson

American musical theatre legend Bob Fosse once said “The time to sing is when your emotional level is too high to just speak anymore.” The fact that The Last Five Years is all sung should be an indicator of how emotionally taxing and challenging the show is.

Fortunately, the music in this production was outstanding. Damien Slingsby’s musical direction was superb, commanding the tone of the show with aplomb, and always adding the essential backing to the mood at the precise level to indicate how the characters felt.

The entire orchestra was spot on, with Slingsby also leading through his piano performance – which was particularly stirring during the penultimate number, Nobody Needs to Know.

Richard Block’s clever direction accentuated the key moments in the show. The circular motifs he implemented during The Next Ten Minutes, Still Hurting, and Goodbye until Tomorrow allowed the audience to be captivated by clear, simple storytelling of the show’s complex concept.

The actors are crucial to the success of The Last Five Years. They must show depth of character, and believe at every moment that they are completely involved in the moment, unaware of the story’s outcome. This solo focus must also be paired with an ability to connect with the opposite actor during the crucial Act One Finale, The Next Ten Minutes.

In terms of acting, the array of skill variation required for these roles parallels that of the Black and White Swans in Swan Lake.

De Jager’s commitment to her role as Cathy was the highlight of her performance, embodying the driven, relentless character to perfection. However, her ability to show a lighter, sweeter side, particularly during Goodbye until Tomorrow, allowed the audience see the reverse transition from broken-hearted divorcee to smitten lover.

Jaime (Fraser Findlay) charms with charisma and personality.
Jaime (Fraser Findlay) charms with charisma and personality. Photo: Miles Thompson

Findlay’s zealous performance captured the ambitious Jamie, and he made the vocal range required for the role look easy. His rendition of Moving Too Fast was brilliantly engaging and oozed charisma that was integrated throughout his character’s journey.

Apart from the odd technical gremlin, the creative team managed to sustain the suspension of disbelief, largely due to Thompson Quan Wing’s superb set. Despite the limited space provided by the nature of the restaurant, it gave the actors everything they needed and the space to do it in without distracting from the other components of the performance.

Theatre aficionados may suggest that Dramatic Productions were too ambitious with their choice for an inaugural production. Despite the risks involved, the team produced a highly commendable all round performance in pursuit of an extremely lofty theatrical summit.

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