The Last Five Years at The Epstein Theatre, Liverpool

Posted on 15 June 2017
By Chris High
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When it works, theatre – and performances within the realm of theatre from all quarters – is an unsurpassable art. A sublime gelling of minds from writers to directors to actors, through to musicians, costumiers, make up, sound and lighting crews. When it comes together as well as it does in this production of The Last Five Years – which runs at The Epstein in Liverpool until June 17 – then the result is almost beyond joyous.

Then, when you realise that the two actors going through emotions of acting out the break up of a marriage whilst being married in real life themselves, then all you can do is stand back and admire all the more their joint efforts.

The story moves in opposite directions: Cathy’s begins at the relationship’s tragic end and then works its way backwards towards happier times, whereas Jamie’s moves forward in time, with all the pain and heartache to come. These two tales play out to give a complete picture of the relationship from both sides, and show why love blossomed and why it faded.

It would be easy to sit back and write how good both Helen Noble and Graham Tudor are in the roles of frustrated actress Cathy and successful author Jamie. Easy to say that each and every narrative song is absolutely nailed, with Noble’s haunting opening melodies of I’m Still Hurting setting the tone and Tudor’s Schmuel Song adding lightness to the ever encroaching darkness, which grows ever deeper with his heart wrenching Nobody Needs To Know.

Yet their performances are so much more than the songs, as is the play entire. The dialogue takes place between them both, yes, but only really when only one or other is on stage. A concept which, but for the power and beauty of Jason Robert Brown’s script and Iestyn Arwel’s deft direction, might fall into the land of confusion.

Not so here. Both actors are more than up to the task of defining the tales they need to tell and refining their character’s individuality. The costumes help provide necessary senses of time and place, whereas the lighting fits the mood like – well – divorce fits Zsa Zsa Gabor.

With live music superbly supplied downstage by Matt Lawton, Luke Moore, Jordan Alexander and Lara Simpson, the ambience is rife with a tension that for many will be all too familiar and therein lies the rub. No matter how much we want to look away, the faults that befall and smother Jamie and Cathy’s love have befallen us all at one time or another, which results in The Last Five Years becoming a highly personal piece indeed.

There is no getting away from the fact that at times The Last Five Years is a difficult watch. Good. It should be. That’s the point of theatre. It’s supposed to make you feel, empathise, sympathise, laugh, cry, shout, rage and rail against adversity in all of its forms. It’s supposed to make you think and make you care about what’s happening in the world around us.

As such, as an example of theatre at its very, very best you’ll certainly have to go a long, long way to witness, in the whole, a better 80 minutes of sheer theatrical magic.

The Last Five Years
The Epstein Theatre, Liverpool
June 15-June 17
Author: Jason Robert Brown
Director: Iestyn Arwel
Producer: TREAD Theatre
Cast: Helen Noble, Graham Tudor
Running Time: 1 hr 20 mins
PR RATING: ***** Emotionally Charged

An Interview with Helen & Graham talking all things The Last Five Years and more, can be found here: