The Last Five Years is part of a mini-season of musicals being put on the Notes From New York company at the Duchess Theatre, and is a revival from last year’s gala performances at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Julie Atherton, most recently seen returning to Avenue Q, plays Cathy, an aspiring actress, and Paul Spicer is newly-published author Jamie and they play this two-hander about the progression of their couple’s relationship over five years.
However, the stories of the two characters are told differently yet concurrently, with Jamie recounting the relationship from beginning to end, and Cathy starting at the end of the relationship and working back to their first meeting. This means that the characters only actually share one duet as their stories intersect at the midpoint which might seem a little odd, but this is a crucial element of the show as it allows the characters to present their differing perceptions of the relationship.
Julie Atherton has the harder job since she has to tell her story in reverse, but she is more than equal to the task, delivering an outstanding performance which proves beyond no doubt that she is one of the strongest talents currently working in the West End. She combines great humour, A Summer in Ohio is a standout, with gut-wrenching heartbreak and has such ease on the stage that I defy anyone to not fall in love with her during this show! Paul Spicer also impressed with his vocal ability, but his character is not quite as likeable. Perhaps this is to do with the format, his story is the conventionally-told one, and so the initial sympathies do gravitate towards the heartbroken Cathy, as Jamie just singing about meeting a girl at this point.
Props and staging are pared down to a minimum which really focuses the attention on the storytelling, with only certain key props being used to indicate the requisite shift in time, and the action whips through in a nifty 90 minutes. It is such a shame that this is such a limited engagement as it is one of the most interesting musicals that I have seen in a while and expertly performed. The season continues with tick…tick…Boom! next week.