City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

The Last Five Years, The Space @ Surgeons Hall, Review

By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 26 August 2016

Ellie Smit as Cathy and the orchestra in The Last Five Years
Show details
Surgeon's Hall
Parade Theatre Company
Running time: 
Jason Robert Brown (composer and lyricist), Tom Chippendale (Director, Musical Director), Orla O'Sullivan (Assistant diretor), Alice Findlay (Stage manager/Producer)
Alex White (Jamie Wellerstein), Ellie Smit (Cathy Hiatt). The Orchestra: Musical Director/ Keys 1 - Tom Chippendale, Keys 2 - Georgina Marsay, Violin - Isabel Manning, Cello - Solomon Shiu Bass - Jack Coles, Guitar - Bertie Reading.

Premiered off Broadway in 2002, "The Last Five Years" by Jason Robert Brown covers the all American, tragic-romantic territory beloved by Woody Allen, about Jamie Wellerstein, a talented young Jewish novelist and Cathy Hiatt, a struggling actress. It's a musical deconstruction of their love affair and marriage which takes place over a five year period, with Cathy relating the story from when the marriage ends, going back in time, while Jamie tells his version chronologically.

This revival is by the Parade Theatre company who are music and drama students or recent graduates from the Royal Holloway University of London. The rather crowded stage has a band of six musicians all lined up around the back wall with a narrow performance area at the front. Cathy sits on a chair and begins to share her heartbreaking tale:

Jamie is over and Jamie is gone.
Jamie's decided it's time to move on.
Jamie has new dreams he's building upon,
And I'm still hurting

With her flowing blonde hair wearing a neat black dress, Elie Smit looks the part, reflecting her misery as she holds a letter from Jamie and a ring. Her voice is silky smooth but with the band performing immediately behind her, a few of her quieter lyrics are almost drowned out.

As she departs, Jamie bounces on stage to describe, through song, the moment they met, believing he has found a woman, although not Jewish, he can love. While portraying an affable, charming guy, Alex White has an effervescent, OTT style of acting and singing with some seriously pitchy notes throughout the show.

And so their personal observations and viewpoints are told individually through their songs. But with little dialogue, the narrative is confusing especially when trying to make sense of the curious lyrics in “Summer in Ohio” about stripper and her snake.

As we follow each timelines of their relationship, Cathy and Jamie are two separate characters who stand alone, singing their solo number, always staring into the far corner of the theatre. These two young lovers therefore do not physically meet on stage – until their wedding day. And finally when do get together, their close embrace and dance looks so awkward and clumsy as if it’s their first date!.

Harold Pinter wrote a blisteringly emotional play, Betrayal, about a love affair dramatised in reverse from two years after the end of the affair to the initial spark when they met across a crowded room at a party.

Unfortunately there's no such electric tension in this musical as the central performances of Jamie and Cathy do not create any dramatic development or emotional connection, whether observed forwards or backwards.

Great credit is due to the MD, Tom Chippendale and all the musicians who play the score with impressive pace and energy.

Times: 22 - 27 August, 2.10pm.
Tickets: £7