An Ordinary Relationship, Extraordinarily Performed: A Review

Stage writer Katrina Gaffney finds The Last Five Years to be a five star performance.

Beautiful, charming and at the same time heart-wrenching, The Last Five Years is a musical for anyone who has ever fallen in or out of love. This two-person musical is seemingly simple but requires perfect execution in order to deliver a performance that feels real. The production I saw in the Pilch achieved this and more, its intimacy left the audience completely captivated.

This is the story of Jamie, Cathy and the rise and fall of their relationship. From the beginning the audience discovers that “Jamie is gone”, and from this point the story unfolds in two ways. We follow Jamie, whose story starts at the beginning of the relationship, and Cathy, who starts at the end. The audience simultaneously witness the formation and decline of this relationship through the lead characters; who remarkably interact just once on stage. Jamie is a successful, up and coming author, whilst Cathy struggles with her acting career; this element of the couple’s relationship plays a key role in their downfall. It also explores career success as a power dynamic within relationships.

Despite the lack of visible interaction between Cathy and Jamie I was utterly convinced of their love; this can be attributed to the incredible performances of both Jemimah Taylor and Jonny Danciger. It takes a great amount of skill to build a relationship between two characters that hardly interact but these actors achieve it; intimate conversations and raging arguments were convincingly carried by actors alone on stage. I waited in anticipation for these two characters to meet on stage and was not disappointed by their only scene together; a proposal and marriage led to one of the most emotionally charged moments of the play. This scene was a moving expression of love, however, the whole play is marked by a kind of despair as the audience realise the inevitability of this relationship’s end.

Beautiful, charming and at the same time heart-wrenching

This musical is undeniably poignant, yet there were many moments to make the audience laugh. Danciger brought a delightfully cheeky energy to Jamie’s musical numbers, I must mention ‘The Schmuel Song’ which had the audience chuckling with glee. There were also some wonderful interactions between Cathy and the band, with a nod towards the keyboard player as Cathy makes a joke about the quality of the pianist at her auditions. The frequent comic relief in this show contributed to the production’s overall realism as the audience were reminded of the importance of laughter both in relationships and life. There was an incredible musicality in this production as the voices of both actors seemed to explode through the Pilch. Taylor has to be commended for her strong voice, which managed to capture Cathy’s internal torment. The singing was accompanied by a wonderful live band who provided seamless changes between the performances of Cathy and Jamie. 

The beauty of The Last Five Years lay in the intimacy of the audience’s experience. Watching this musical felt like watching a true replay of the memories of the characters, as they fluttered on and off stage. Many aspects of this production could be described as minimalist, from the set design to the costume, but this approach worked perfectly to compliment the raw emotion provided by the actors. Characterised by poignancy and providing many identifiable moments for the audience, this portrayal of a perfectly ordinary relationship achieves something extraordinary.