REVIEW: The Last Five Years – Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Imagine, if you will, a musical starring just two people. All words are sang, not to each other as we see them, but to versions of each other that only exist in the memory of the singer.
The passing of five years is told through song and the occasional costume change. The passing of these years isn’t always linear either. Cathy Hyatt tells her tale in song, beginning at the breakdown of her marriage and striking back towards being on the rocks, further back to being happy, to the first meeting. Jamie, on the other hand, begins in the blissful unawareness of a new romance, extra unaware of his to-be wife mourning her ex-wife status at the other side of the stage. They meet onstage and direct words to each other just once. Following it so far? Sounds like it wouldn’t work? Read on…
Blunt Fringe Productions have bitten off a lot this time. Only established at the end of 2013, they managed to convince Fra Fee – one of Northern Ireland’s main musical theatre names – to appear in a fringe production, in the round. The Lyric’s Naughton Studio seats audience members three-quarters of the way around the stage, the only respite being the small seating area reserved for the band. This allows no escape for the actor, no chance to glance away from the audience and Fra Fee seems to revel in it.
This small space gets smaller when he invades the audience, directing lines from ‘A Miracle Would Happen’ to individuals while nudging them in the ribs. And a nudge in the ribs is the least of the physicality here. A picture is painted of a kind, arrogant young man who splashes out physicality and life everywhere he goes. You want to smack him for his ignorance of the heartbroken woman who occupies the same stage but it’s testament to his acting that he can be right beside it and seemingly not see it. Testament to his acting… and Amy Lennox’s.
If Fee is the physical life of the show, Lennox is the heart, beginning with the questioning ‘Jamie’ setting the thematic tone. Her vulnerability is well-established from the start and is convincingly stripped back away from her face, every nuance of growing love showing in a carefully arched foot, or a raised eyebrow. We begin to wish that these two would actually spend more time together on stage, while at the same time knowing what’s going to happen.
Brought down to its bare bones, Lennox starting at the end of the relationship almost develops the plot with more of a bang than Fee does. Fee develops the characters with his gift for humour and nothing but a set of six boxes – which at different times produce a dress, a laptop, photos and a place to sit – to conjure a set.
Mark McGrath leads a five piece band, hammering through an American jazz-like score, all syncopated beats and Jewish humour. The piano is a third player on the stage, guiding the actors through what they have to do and even though vocally the songs are sometimes too high for Lennox and too fast for Fee, you forgive it because not everyone can hit notes while telling you the stories of their life. Sometimes, in life, songs are more spat than sang. And these are undoubtedly challenging songs, with extras required of the cast, such as changing of clothes and crawling along the ground while singing. If the songs are too big for this cast, the gestures and emotions certainly are not.