Jason Robert Brown’s portrait of lives and loves that collide before (literally and metaphorically) moving apart gets a serviceable, thoroughly enjoyable production this Festival Fringe. The Last Five Years is an ideal musical for small-scale, budget productions; all that is needed is an intimate venue, minimal set and props, and two dynamic performers who can convey and carry their independent stories which move in chronologically and thematically opposite directions. In this regard, Q Productions have hit the nail on the head, keeping the focus solely on Cathy and Jamie as they navigate the rapturous beginning and devastating end of their relationship.
On the day seen, both singers took about a song and a half to come into their own, which got the counteracting narratives off to a slightly bumpy start, but once they did the ill-fated lovers came to life. Lori Davidson’s Cathy grew in stature over the course of the show, as her emotional destruction gave way to outrage, contentment, and effusive joy. Connor Burnett created a more dangerous Jamie – a man so caught up in his own visions of the future and his own self that his romantic gestures ultimately miss their mark.
A striking choice was the way Cathy and Jamie interacted with each other: both kept the demeanour of their respective timelines when appearing in the other’s songs. This cast notes of sadness over ebullient declaration of first love, cementing the idea that these two would not have made it work in other circumstances. The fate route might not be the strongest dramatically, as the choices they made seemed predetermined, but the wistful atmosphere and the unavoidability of tragedy proved genuinely moving.
The sparse set’s one bench allowed for quick scene changes, from apartment interiors to hotel rooms to Central Park with the help of props and projections (the latter especially effective at evoking a New York soaked in nostalgia and romance). Some blocking and staging clichés hamper a handful of poignant moments, but when conventions and rote behaviours of heartache are abandoned in favour of honesty, humanity shines through the gorgeous solos. After all, The Last Five Years explores universalities of love – the joyous beginnings, the mundane and majestic moments together, and the inevitable challenges – through its two characters’ heartbreak. When committing to this quasi-mythological structure, this Fringe production wholly succeeded.
Venue 227 PQA Venues @ Riddle’s Court
14:00 until 26th August