A performance to fall in love with
By Bradley Storer
A woman enters her apartment after a long day of work, placing her bag on the table and letting her hair down before spotting a letter left on her bed, along with a set of keys. With this heart-breakingly simple image, the complex narrative of Jason Robert Brown’s off-Broadway classic The Last Five Years begins to unwind in this production by Vic Theatre Company.
The Last Five Years is a musical that presents many challenges – along with balancing the audience’s sympathy for two people shown at their respective worsts, the concept of each character’s story unfurling in opposite directions (his forwards, hers backwards) means there is normally no direct interaction between the two characters, eliminating the chemistry needed to make the central love story work. Director Chris Parker has chosen to have both characters present in relevant scenes, which is effective in some scenes (‘See I’m Smiling’ and ‘If I Didn’t Believe In You’ in particular) but less so in others where the apparent silence of one character for the entire time doesn’t always work. Brown’s wonderful score however remains entrancing throughout, beautifully played by the band under Daniel Puckey, with the simple but intricate set by Daniel Harvey unfolding in a multitude of ways to enhance the action.
Verity Hunt-Ballard is nothing short of brilliant in the role of Cathy. She wrenches the heart in her opening song, ‘Still Hurting’, manages to make the character sympathetic and delivers pure musical comedy gold in her ‘A Summer in Ohio’ and ‘Climbing Uphill’ – even in the scenes where she doesn’t speak, Hunt-Ballard conveys powerful emotion with just a look and a cheeky smile. Her performance alone is more than worth the price of admission.
Josh Piterman as the charismatic wunderkind writer Jamie ably handles the early parts of his character’s journey, his whirlwind romance with Cathy blossoming alongside his literary career, and sensitively performs the emotionally ambivalent ‘If I Didn’t Believe in You’ before losing his footing towards the end. The character’s final songs don’t have quite the impact they could (despite a nice symbolic touch involving a memento from earlier in the piece), and the last few moments of the show lose their full weight.
A problem with the musical itself is that it never seems to fully suggest what conclusion or meaning we should draw from watching Cathy and Jamie’s relationship disintegrate – but the final image of Cathy, her face lit up by the elation of newfound love as she retreats into darkness, remains haunting nevertheless.
Venue: 45downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000
Dates & Times: Nov 25, 27, 29, Dec 1, 4, 7, 9, 7.30pm / Nov 26, 8.30pm / Dec 11, 3pm / Dec 3, 10 4pm
Prices: Preview $43, Full $50, Concession $45, Group 8+ $43, Double Bill $80 (with The Gathering)
Tickets: www.fortyfivedownstairs.com , (03) 9662 9966
Image by James Terry Photography