The Last Five Years – Pleasance Theatre

The Last Five Years tells the story of Jamie (played by Ethan Baird) and Cathy (Mhairi McCall), a young couple living in New York, along parallel timelines. Jamie’s story moves forwards, while Cathy starts at the end and recounts her story backwards. This production blew me away with how successfully it captured the musical’s powerful emotions.

The set of the production is deceptively simple, featuring few props but transforming from one scene to the next. One of my favorite uses of a prop was the bed in the first scene, which became a pier in the next moment – I found this clever and unusual. The costumes followed the same pattern. During ‘The Next 10 Minutes’, when Jamie proposes and the couple gets married, the actors’ costumes turned quickly from everyday wear into wedding attire. It was impressive to watch this happen in a matter of seconds right in front of us.

A major strength that both actors shared was that they were able to make the characters their own while staying faithful to the source material. During some of Cathy’s more intense moments, McCall’s voice shook with the weight of the emotions she was bringing across. This really struck a chord with me. As someone who has known the musical for a while, I was pleasantly surprised to find that both actors’ interpretations of their characters showed me something new I hadn’t experienced before.

It must be said that the performance was as successful as it was in part because of the sheer quality of the music. McCall and Baird both deliver excellent performances of some very vocally tough songs. The piano accompaniment to each song was very impressive as well; I have a lot of respect for the pianist!

While the performance doesn’t have an actual break anywhere, ‘The Next 10 Minutes’ marks the halfway point in the story, and the point from which the feelings in Jamie’s numbers change from confident to unhappy. I found that Baird’s acting was better suited to these more emotionally charged songs. In particular, his body language during ‘If I Didn’t Believe In You’ stood out to me as fantastic. It left me wishing that the first half of the performance had featured a little more of these wonderful subtleties in his acting.

The only thing holding this otherwise amazing performance back is its occasional habit of going a little over the top. As much fun as ‘Moving Too Fast’ was, I didn’t quite understand why Jamie was suddenly dressed extravagantly and wearing sunglasses, for example. The ‘softer’ moments, when the actors are singing about love or their failing relationship, are much more effective. It was truly a treat to watch because of these moments!

 

PHOTOS: Bossy Belters

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Isa Reneman

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