Arts Festival

Figure 8s and the passage of love

JAMIE (Andrew Downing) is just moving too fast in his path to career success, in The Last Five Years, at the Hilton Festival. Photograph by Andrew Gorman.

AGAINST THE BACKDROP of many ‘alwayses’ and lots of ‘forevers’ every relationship goes through a sequence of uncertainties and bumps in the road. Jason Robert Brown’s intimate musical The Last Five Years takes a relatively ordinary story and gives it shards of brilliance with turnabouts in the sequence of events. You can see it at the Hilton Festival tomorrow at 2:30pm in the Theatre.

And it is here where we meet Cathy (Zoë McLaughlin) and Jamie (Anthony Downing). He has his issues about being Jewish in a world fraught with taboos and tradition, and a career that hasn’t yet left the ground. She’s a stage performer, who is full of the joys of doing what she loves and growing her repertoire and skills. And we in the audience, are telescoped across time, backwards and forwards, simultaneously.

The work begins at the end and beginning of things, in songs which dovetail one another, focusing on each performer alone. This averts the idea of plot spoilers, but allows more give-and-take in spite of the fact (or maybe because of the fact) that we only get to see the two of them in the same set in the middle of the work. At their wedding.

And then, like any other successful figure of eight, the narrative continues to unwind leaving you to understand the passage of time. For him. For her. In this direction, and that. It’s a vastly satisfying piece, which graced the stages in Johannesburg under the directorial arm of Bryan Schimmel some years ago. But its unequivocal success rests on the lyrics as much as the melodies. This is not always successfully held in this season’s production, however. The music often fights with the vocalists’ lungs for prominence on your ears, and wins.

Having said that, both McLaughlin and Downing are very fine performers, with strong voices and credible and empathetic reflections of their respective characters. You understand the values espoused by both Cathy and Jamie, simply because you’re human and you too may have been through these bouts of boundless enthusiasm, fear and doubt when confronting new terrain.

And then, there is the issue of the lighting. In the large theatre auditorium, which seats audiences of over 400, there is no problem with the sound filling the space, but there is a problem of light being shone in the audience’s eyes; a moment which happens with Cathy at the mirror. It’s an assault on the sensibilities and detracts from the work’s potency, rather harshly.

All things considered, it’s unlikely that you will get to experience a more subtly developed and keenly focused understanding of the dynamics of a relationship which goes from too hot to handle to ice cold.

  • The Last Five Years is directed by Paul Griffiths with musical direction by Jaco Griessel. Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown and produced by Tally Ho! Productions, it features creative input by Jaco Griessel (lighting and sound design), Jaco Griesel with Zoë McLaughlin (set design) and Zoë McLaughlin (sourcing costumes). Performed by Anthony Downing and Zoë McLaughlin, it is backed by Rayelle Goodman (violin), Nina Watson and Rina Schutte (cellos), Jaco Griessel (piano), Graeme Lees (acoustic guitar) and CJ Duckitt (bass guitar). It is at the Hilton Arts Festival Sunday September 25 at 2:30pm in the Theatre.

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