A gem in the Jewellery Quarter

Reliving the years: Dean Bayliss as Jamie and Laura Poyner as Cathy

The Last Five Years

Imaginary Friend Theatre Co

The Blue Orange Theatre, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham

*****

THEATRE with its spotlights and illusion is full of pretty, shiny things but every so often among the glitter and glitz you find a real gem and this is a production that positively sparkles.

This is a musical with a cast of two – all right three, just about, if you count Elise (Kaz Luckins) who appears for a few moments as scantily clad bed decoration – but it is a vehicle which is cleverly constructed and beautifully written and composed by Jason Robert Brown.

That gives a flying start and this is a show that simply soars with its stars Laura Payner as Cathy and Dan Bayliss as Jamie.

Brown is largely unknown by most people, which is a pity. His music reminds me of Randy Edelman. He writes monologues to music, conversations which are turned into song. They are not really commercial, will never be heard at a disco and will only appear in the hit parade by accident but they are songs full of feelings, emotions, thoughts, hopes, despair – life in fact.

The Last Five Years is a love story from the first green shoots of romance though marriage to the final disintegration and break up over a five year period.

It is written from the point of view of the two characters with their thoughts at each stage of the relationship but instead of a she said, he said commentary on a beginning, middle and end narrative Brown writes two musicals in one.

Cathy, an actress, starts at the end of the story with the sad, resignation of the poignant Still Hurting as she reads the farewell note from Jamie and slowly goes back through their romance to its fresh beginning full of promise.

The midpoint of the relationship with Cathy heading to the first flush of romance and Jamie on the bittersweet road to break-up

Jamie, a would-be writer, is working through they story and opens with getting ready for his first date with Cathy, his Shiksa Goddess. Soon he has his first book published  and is becoming  famous author with book tours and signings.

The pair's stories meet and cross with The Next Ten Minutes. The only time the pair sing together. Cathy and Jamie are in Central Park in New York and in a what is a sad love song tell each other how they can't live apart.

Cathy tells Jamie

I want to be your wife

I want to bear your child

I want to die

Knowing I

Had a long, full life in your arms

While Jamie tells her

There are so many lives I want to share with you

I will never be complete until I do

From there Cathy, who earlier in the show, but later in her life remember, had been on tour with a show, reflects on how worried she was about whether she would succeed as an actress with Climbing Uphill, before she landed a part in a show and how she took Jamie to meet her parents, I can do Better Than That, and finally a song full of hope and promise, Goodbye Until Tomorrow, after their first date.

Jamie moves on from marriage towards despair with a row with Cathy, If I Didn't Believe in You and finally wakes up next to Elise, trying to justify adultery by blaming Cathy for damaging their relationship singing Nobody Needs to Know telling Elise I could be in Love with Someone Like You the final line of his anthem for Cathy, Shiksa Goddesi.

As Cathy sings about their first date, the music a reprise of Still Hurting, Jamie sings the bittersweet song of regret I Could Never Rescue You as he writes the note of farewell.

It is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, with 15 songs which are all beautifully sung, full of emotion, feeling and at times with smiles and fun, made even more intimate in a studio setting. There is little in the way of dialogue so the full story, and all the acting has to come through in the songs and Brown would have been delighted at how Cathy and Jamie fulfilled his vision.

Credit too has to go to the musical director Chris Corcoran on the piano who showed he is not only a fine musician but an accomplished accompanist – not always the same thing - aided by Alexia Barbera on bass.

A special mention to Doug Earnshow and Sam Dyer who were responsible for sound – getting it right was important in a show like this – lights and the video projections – which provided the scenery. Four irregular screens showed images of rain, New York, tenements, suburbs or whatever as a backdrop to the story.

This is a first class production which ended its three night run and truly deserves a much wider audience. 17-03-12

Roger Clarke

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