The Last Five Years (Dunedin 2017)

Mayfair Theatre, 100 King Edward Street, Kensington, Dunedin

17/03/2017 - 18/03/2017

Dunedin Fringe 2017

Production Details

Writer and composer Jason Robert Brown
Musical director Sam van Betuw

Cathy, a struggling actress, and Jamie, a budding novelist on the brink of wild success, are 20-somethings in New York who meet, fall in love, marry, and divorce over the span of five years. Cathy tells the story from the end of their marriage; Jamie begins from when they first meet. As the musical unfolds, Cathy moves backwards in time to the beginning of the relationship as Jamie moves toward the end; they meet only once, in the middle, at their wedding. Since its Off-Broadway premiere in 2002, Brown’s funny, poignant, and devastatingly honest two-person production has enraptured audiences around the world with its spellbinding and emotional score and libretto.

Mayfair Theatre
17-18 march 2017

Ben Thomas
Lydia Bernard

Charlie Mornin
Jo Brusse
Olive Butler
Steven McNulty
Ryan Finnie
Daniel Potter

Theatre , Musical ,

90 minutes

Pick of the Fringe

Review by Kimberley Buchan 18th Mar 2017

The Last Five Years tells the story of Jamie, a successful young novelist, and Cathy, a not as successful as she would like to be singer. They meet, fall in love, marry, hurt each other, and divorce. It may seem like a normal boring romance story not even worth changing the channel for but this time the story is told from different points in time.

This intriguing twist has Cathy telling her view of the relationship backwards from the bitterness at the end to the hope at the beginning. Jamie has the more conventional direction from the start to the end. The only time the characters meet is the poignant proposal in the middle. This simple concept is absorbing as each song adds a new perspective to what you thought you knew. 

Dunedin boy Ben Thomas returns home after starring in The Rocky Horror Show up north and brings us this award winning musical. Thomas directs and stars as Jamie. He exudes confidence as he struts across the stage: perfect for his character as Jamie is an arrogant self-absorbed victim of his own success.

Lydia Bernard is Thomas’ equal in power and passion on stage. She plays the slightly more developed character of Cathy. Writer and composer Jason Robert Brown has crafted a well-written modern romance that these two fine actors can sink their teeth into. Their relish in doing so is evident. The audience appreciates the lack of schmaltz and connects with the recognisable milestones of an unsuccessful relationship. 

Musical director Sam van Betuw has assembled an outstanding band of musicians. They provide the energy and the impetus for the characters’ journeys. Charlie Mornin, Jo Brusse, Olive Butler, Steven McNulty, Ryan Finnie and Daniel Potter are onstage for the entire show and work together beautifully to create a captivating show.

The Mayfair stage is stripped back and there is a simple elegance to this set up. Digital projections guide us through the moods of the characters and the locations that the songs are set in. There are pieces of a set onstage but these are only occasionally and fleetingly referred to by the performers so their necessity is questionable as Thomas and Bernard interact far more often with the projections that establish time and place, rendering the set pieces redundant.

The projected images were well timed and the lighting at the back of the stage works beautifully on concert together. The lighting at the front of the stage is at times off, leaving the actors’ faces in darkness during a couple of key moments.

The vitality of this show just pulses off the stage. The audience can’t help but be caught up in the commanding and expressive voices of the two singers. It would be appreciated however, if a few adjustments could be made at the sound desk when the singers are hitting their top notes so that the audience can enjoy it even more.

I am going to be honest: I am not a fan of musicals, but this show wins me over. It wins the rest of the audience over too, as they bound to their feet as soon as the performance is finished to give an enthusiastic standing ovation.

With time running out on the 2017 Dunedin Fringe Festival, so far The Last Five Years is my pick of the Fringe. There is only one night left of this clever and vibrant show. Make sure you don’t miss out.  


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