The Last Five Years (La Boite Theatre Company)
La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre
May 30 – June 18
Often there is a delight to going into shows unprepared as to what is about to unfold. In the case of Tony Award-winning playwright Jason Robert Brown’s “The Last Five Years” however, it is valuable to know of the work’s unique premise as this allows for full appreciation of the craftedness at its core. And under the dynamic direction of Darren Yap (with musical direction by James Dobinson), celebration of this remains central to La Boite Theatre’s return of the musical to the Queensland stage.
The 90-minute two-hander follows the ill-fated five-year relationship of aspiring artists, novelist Jamie (Robert Tripolina) and actress Cathy (Danielle Remulta) … in two different directions. Cathy tells the story from the end of their marriage; Jamie begins from when they first meet, and, as the musical unfolds, Cathy moves backward in time to the beginning of the relationship while Jamie moves chronologically toward its inevitable end. Their alternate musical narration is all very clever, not just in how the characters share space but not time, apart from a one-scene, mid-show point where the share a song at their wedding (‘The Next Ten Minutes’), but in overlap also of themes and lyrical motifs.
With Jamie’s experience of career success emerging in comparison to Cathy’s struggles, contrasts are soon apparent, and creative choices work well to enhance this through steely lighting of Jaime’s late show laments in juxtaposition to Kathy’s bright beginning (lighting design by Ben Hughes), cleverly also singing goodbye but with another meaning. Effective use of space allows for multiple entry and exit points for characters at all levels. In what is some of the Roundhouse Theatre’s best staging, we are even seasonally lit into the couple’s second Christmas. Props pop seamlessly into and out of the story and costumes changes are barely noticed, such is the slick momentum of its scene changes.
At the beginning Tripolina has the easiest job as emerging novelist Jamie, engaging the audience immediately with his joyful hope as he bounces through the jaunty ‘Shiksa Goddess’ about his delight to be dating outside his Jewish heritage. Tripolina is a charismatic performer who makes for a charming Jamie, even in later scenes as the older and wiser, then successful author must admit that his marriage is at an end. His performance is energetic and built upon a foundation of strong vocal talent. His upbeat ‘Moving Too Fast’ contemplation of life with Cathy seeming too good to be true is a rollicking rockabilly-esque highlight, especially as he grabs a guitar and heads to the heights of the space occupied by the live band of musicians.
Remulta has some moving moments as struggling actor Cathy, a woman betrayed by a divorce she is only beginning to understand, such when sitting along contemplating her emotions in contrast to Jamie’s move-on in ‘Still Hurting’. They are also both adept at delivering comedic moments which land well. ‘A Summer in Ohio’ allows for some entertaining characterisation from Remulta as Cathy writes to Jamie from Ohio describing her life and eccentric colleagues, and there is much humour as she shares the inner monologue accompanying a failing audition experience.
The show is full of insightful but also quirky lyrics, such as in Jamie’s catchy little Christmas story of Schmuel, Tailor of Klimovich, as metaphor for his support of Cathy. Brown’s bitter-sweet score features a variety of song styles. Musical director James Dobinson’s piano is the show’s lifeline, providing the heartbeat of Cathy’s number ‘See I’m Smiling’ and her determination to fix their marital problems, before leading us into Jamie’s move in with her and thankfulness as to how everything is going well.
Instead of the usual dramatic tension that comes with not knowing how things will unfold, music fleshes out and colours in the story’s drama through some rich orchestrations from violinist Annie Silva, cellists Dr Danielle Bentley and David Friesberg, along with Joel Woods on guitar and Patrick Farrell on bass guitar. This makes for a stirring soundtrack.
Production is tight, meaning that the show seems to be over in what feels like the quickest of times, such is its humour and the poignant honesty of all of its feels. Indeed, despite making such versatile use of the possibilities of the Roundhouse Theatre space, things still seem very intimate and emotionally moving in its prompt to ponder if perhaps it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.
Photos c/o – Morgan Roberts