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The Last Five Years

Wednesday, 17 August, 2011

Powerful two-hander

Edinburgh – C Venues, C Soco Studio 4, 5-15 August 21:30 (1:15)

The Last Five Years is a powerful two-hander musical that tells the story of a failed marriage.  Aspiring actress Cathy Hyatt (Emily Muldoon) falls in love with the equally smitten Jamie Wellerstein (Ashton Montgomery).  As  Jamie’s writing career climbs to astonishing heights at an unprecedented pace, Cathy’s falls apart. Their love cannot survive this unbalance. Jason Robert Brown’s  heartfelt score brings to life the bittersweet nature of love and loss.

Emily Hill  and Laura Howarth have produced a simple yet stylish show.  The stage is split into quadrants.  A bedroom on the right, a multi purpose box to the left, two folding chairs centre stage.  The colours are neutral-creams, beiges and browns.  The set echoes the minimalist nature of this almost naturalistic and dramatic musical.  Difficulties arise due to the limitations of the fringe space however, and the set could do with being shifted back a meter or so to ensure the audience are always able to engage with the touching acting the cast are so capable of.  Some moments, such as Cathy’s scene on the pier are totally lost.

Cathy’s story starts at the end.  “Jamie is over and Jamie is gone” sings  Emily Muldoon.     As she cradles her wedding photo.  Her face is un-made-up and puffed from crying.  Her voice cracks emotionally.  The weakness of her tone captures the reality of a broken woman.  However, the band overwhelms her somewhat.  Though the acting is undoubtedly moving the melody is lost in the emotion.  The cavernous space amplifies her accompaniment but does not favour her.

Jamie’s story starts at the beginning.  The twenty-three year old wannabe novelist, arrogant, immature and optimistic is falling in love with an older woman.  Ashton Montgomery  sings the role wonderfully, capturing Jamie’s cock-sure nature, but also his genuine enthusiasm and his passion for Cathy.  He masters a very challenging score, effectively catching the lower notes and whisking his way through some falsetto passages.

As the story progresses the disparity in vocal ability and musical pitfalls widen.  While both Emily Muldoon and Ashton Montgomery are gifted actors who bring their characters to life with remarkable attention to detail and performances that are at once well observed and very much ‘in the moment’, Emily Muldoon’s  voice is not quite up to the role.  In the middle and lower registers her delivery is sensitive and sonorous, with a folk-song tone, however, the part is beyond her range and her higher notes fail.  Her belt crumbles, and songs in the upper register such as When You Come Home do not come over well—both tuning and sound quality are hampered.  Moreover, the band have some intonation and timing problems, especially the string section.  Fortunately, neither singers are too thrown by this.

Ashton Montgomery carries the show with aplomb.  While his character could become deeply unlikeable, he is well cast.  The youth and energy he brings to Jamie, as well as moments of sheer despair, self loathing and guilt humanise the character.  His drunken new husband, frustrated at his sexual captivity is particularly easy to identify with despite moral outrage.

And, while Emily Muldoon  struggles vocally, she has some shining moments.  As she talks of her hopes and dreams to the invisible Jamie, sitting on an imaginary bus, her eyes shine with the excitement of new found love, and her mellow vocal quality is perfectly suited to this almost spoken melody.

The final few scenes tie the show together in a clever and poignant way.  Small touches, such as the realisation that the checked pyjama top one assumed Cathy to be wearing at the start was actually one of Jamie’s shirts heighten the pathos.  While this production has flaws (mostly musical or due to spatial constraints), exceptional acting and a lot of genuine insight from directors  Alex Howarth and Caroline McCaffrey make it well worth seeing.

Cast Credits:  Jamie Wellerstein – Ashton Montgomery, Cathy Hyatt – Emily Muldoon

Band:  Keyboard – Brendon McDonald, Violin – Joanna Ramaswamy, Cello 1– Charlotte Wright, Cello 2 – Piaf Knight, Guitar – Craig Carri, Bass – Lewis Kennedy

Company Credits: Director/Producers – Alex Howarth and Caroline McCaffrey, Producers – Emily Hill and Laura Howarth, Musical Director – Lindsey Miller

Reviewed Monday 8th August – C Venues, C Soco Studio 4 – Edinburgh

(c) Rebecca Gibson 2011

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