The Last Five Years explores the relationship between soon-to-be-published young author Jamie and hopeful actress Cathy, employing an unusual front-to-back/back-to-front structure structure whereby Jamie moves forward from first date to divorce while Cathy makes the return journey from despair to brimming hope.
In a sense Jason Robert Brown's theatre drama seemed appropriate in this digitised theatre form from the bold folk of OO Productions, since the flashback structure is an age-old staple in the movies. This seemed more of a flashback variant rather than something wholly novel, and arguably not a great deal more than a gimmick. On Saturday, lockdown force majeure dictated that our two protagonists never met, and for the halfway point coming together of their opposing trajectories wedding garb (bow tie and white dress, plus two big smiling faces) served pretty well.We were straight into the pain and bewilderment at the end of the story chez Cathy in her South London front room as she embarked on her winsome 'Still Hurting', with cello, violin and piano all announcing their presence. We then switched to Jamie in his Jesus College room singing 'Shiksa [ Gentile woman] Goddess'. Maggie Moriarty's Cathy was instantly clear-voiced and confident, while director Imogen Albert had injected a surprising degree of movement into Jamie's use of space, and Peter Todd had established his possession of a strong tenor voice – just briefly struggling a trifle down in the lower register in this song. He handled with aplomb all the tricky tempo changes throughout his songs. For recording their songs, the actors had listened to a rehearsal track by Music Director Livi van Warmelo. She subsequently re-jigged the piano part and mixed in the band over the voices; all time-consuming and precise, done perfectly.
Hence the narrative moved in opposite directions, with 'See I'm Smiling' from Cathy in her garden, a little haven of city jungle with Phormiums, a hairy-trunked palm tree and bamboos, the director making a neat horticultural cut to Jamie, surrounded by Jasminum Nudiflorum as he sang 'Moving Too Fast', the narrative advancing by means of the libretto.
I hadn't looked beforehand for variety of location, yet Imogen discovered it. Cathy shifted into the street with its houses of distinctive part-yellow London brick, then rode in a car, while Jamie moved inside and out, including a canny directorial choice of a bleak stairwell as he twisted the emotional tourniquet for 'If I Didn't Believe in You', a highlight. The one substantial spoken section had Jamie reading from his novel 'Light out of Darkness' - ironic title given the emotional turmoil in the air around them. Was it another clever touch that one of the books on the table was 'The Letters of T.E. Lawrence', also a tortured soul?
The excellent 5-person band was skilfully mixed by Livi and maintained a tactful presence, and Harvey Dovell's clever editing of the production was a testament to his previous film experience. Without his all-round knowledge and drive, the show could not have gone on. Imogen Albert exploited the resources at her disposal with notable creativity. The camera work of James Moriarty and Owen Winter was remarkably unfussy and free of jitterbugs.
Maggie Moriarty and Peter Todd were both first class by any criterion, let alone in these artificial circumstances. They moved easily, there was variation in their vocal delivery and they were perfectly at ease with the outpouring of emotion. I felt their agony and ecstasy! I thought this was a little triumph over adversity by OO Productions. Confronted by the 'To be or not to be' conundrum, they chose to push on with their show rather than bowing to the calls of cancellation, they sold 300 tickets and they sent evidence of their cultural commitment in hard times even to the far corners of New Zealand and South Africa. Terrific!