“I will not lose because you can’t win.”
Jason Robert Brown’s ‘The Last Five Years’ presents to us the story of Cathy Hyatt (Maggie Moriarty) and Jamie Wellerstein (Peter Todd), two twenty-somethings attempting to ‘make it’ as artists in New York. Through masterful chronological manipulation, we see the development and unravelling of their relationship from each of their perspectives: whilst Jamie moves forward in time from their first date, the piece begins with Cathy’s point of view as she discovers that Jamie has left her. This structure means that, in most productions, the two characters rarely appear on stage together, and so even before watching the show, I imagined it would work reasonably well in its new quarantine-friendly format.
To say the format “works reasonably well”, however, is an understatement: the piece is a triumph. Imogen Albert’s direction complements Jason Robert Brown’s music and lyrics beautifully, creating heart-breaking juxtaposition as one character experiences the joy and excitement of falling in love for the first time, while the other tries desperately to paper over the ever-growing cracks appearing in their relationship as it develops. This is best exemplified in the transition between the songs ‘A Miracle Would Happen’, in which Jamie struggles to overcome the temptation towards infidelity and to convince himself that he truly is happy in his new marriage, and ‘When You Come Home to Me’, a very pretty love song, performed in a beautifully earnest and almost child-like rendition by Maggie Moriarty. Albert’s use of space is also very well thought-out: despite Jamie and Cathy’s scenes being filmed in completely different locations, elements such as front doors and stairwells are cleverly used to give the piece an important sense of continuity.
With only two actors in the cast, the roles of Cathy and Jamie are hugely demanding, but Maggie Moriarty and Peter Todd are exceptional. Backed up by a highly professional-sounding band, led by Livi Van Warmelo. Both actors make Brown’s challenging score seem effortless, and in the rare moments the two characters sing together, a gorgeous vocal contrast is created. In terms of character, Todd gives us a cheeky, comical Jamie who is doing his very best to support Cathy, but who develops into a man who cannot help but put his own success, and ultimately his own happiness first. His powerful rendition of ‘If I Didn’t Believe in You’ clearly shows a man torn between wanting to encourage his wife and being frustrated and annoyed by her lack of confidence and struggle to find acting work. Moriarty’s Cathy, on the other hand, is a quiet, pensive character, whom we see physically weighed down with self-doubt at the start of the play, but who moves backwards in time to reveal an exuberant young woman in love. This turning point was extremely well-demonstrated in the song ‘A Summer in Ohio’, which Moriarty performed with a sheer joy and energy that just had not been detectable in Cathy’s character before this point.
Overall, the whole team have done a wonderful job. The direction, acting, singing and band (the violin line that both starts and ends the show is particularly heart-wrenching) were so skilled that I genuinely forgot where I was, and was sitting alone my room, applauding wildly. If online productions like this will be the “new normal” for theatre over the next few months, 00Productions have shown that we are in safe hands.