The Last Five Years

This feel-sad musical is well worth watching, writes FRANCESCA HILL.

atri banerjee Francesca Hill Guy Woolf rochelle thomas The Last Five Years

Corpus Playroom, 7pm, Tuesday 16th – Saturday 20th October £6/5

Dir. Atri Banerjee

This is not a feel-good musical. This is a cleverly heart-breaking tragedy, cunningly disguised as a musical. And it really works.

The Last Five Years follows the lives of young couple, Cathy (Rochelle Thomas) and Jamie (Guy Wolf), as they try to make their way in the world. Jamie does so rather better than Cathy, and the resulting tension and jealousy tear their relationship apart. So far, so cheerful.

Not only are the characters’ lives moving in different directions geographically, but they’re moving in different directions in time. (It’s fine, really – just go with me on this one.) Whilst Jamie tells their story chronologically, Cathy starts at the miserable conclusion, working her way backwards towards happier times.

It’s hard to make a couple who hardly interact with each other on stage seem convincing, but both put in great performances; Woolf’s charisma in no way detracting from Thomas’ more understated execution. When they do occasionally meet, you believe in them.

The music is brilliant. The tunes are so hummable I found the soundtrack on Spotify as soon as I got home, and the lyrics are in turn tragic and hilarious. (For those who like a bit of drama, the ex-wife of the composer and lyricist, Jason Robert Brown, tried to sue him for basing the musical on the disintegration of their marriage.) My only real criticism regarding the music is that occasionally the accompaniment is too loud, making it difficult to hear Thomas in particular.

Woolf is at his best when confidently delivering some of the musical’s more comic numbers, bemoaning how many attractive women want to sleep with him, and rejoicing in the distress his soon-to-be girlfriend will cause his Jewish family. Thomas, on the other hand, takes a while to warm up, but comes into her own at the darkest moments, savagely lashing out in “See I’m Smiling” with utter credibility.

If anything, that The Last Five Years goes simultaneously in opposite directions just heightens the sense of inevitable tragedy. You desperately wish Jamie and Cathy would sort themselves out exactly because you’re simultaneously forced to confront how happy they once were and how horrible their end is going to be.

It’s not the play to see with your other half if you’re going through a rough patch, but if you like a doomed romance you’ll love The Last Five Years.