The Last Five Years

Declan Dowling
19th Oct 2022

An assault of pendulumic thrusts through parallel and convergent perspectives traveling towards each other antipodically through time. Jason Robert Brown’s 2005 musical THE LAST FIVE YEARS is the ‘Memento’ of the music theatre world. Only in this instance we aren’t pieceing together the murder of Guy Pierce’s wife, but rather the ascent and decent of a couple who have taken a pocket full of plot-line from Robert Brown’s own failed marriage to Theresa O'Neill. We follow Jamie Wellerstein, a rising novelist, and Cathy Hiatt, a struggling actress, as they meet, respectively rise and struggle, and fall apart.

The gimmick, for those unfamiliar, is that Cathy starts her journey from the break-up and finishes right after the couple first meet. While Jamie starts the evening right after the couple first meet ending up at the break-up. The pair briefly meet in the middle for their wedding and the only direct interaction between them in the entire show.

UNSW’s Music Theatre Society assembled a team of fine artists indeed with Producer Bronwyn Dyer, Musical Director Jieshun Wang and Director Blake Condon. Condon’s production is like a bottle of Dom Pérignon, it pops and then fizzes, issuing forth its goods from a stylish vessel with a steady flow that leaves you feeling heady and invigorated. Striking pace, smooth and chic design, dynamic intrigue and a deft sense of play adorn the pallet. After half a glass alone you’ve drunk enough to feel indeed like you’re drinking the stars. And the stars chosen for this particular vintage are Ren McMeiken and Brodie Masini as Cathy and Jamie respectively .

McMeiken was deliciously devoid of self-indulgence, as is often the trap when actors explore this work. Her candor cantered across the space inviting us into her backwards ascent from crushed to brimming with the possibility of all the things that are and could be. Masini’s floor to ceiling vocals tore through the padding of the seats in the auditorium leaving a powdered array of cushioning foam hanging in the air, which he cut through with impassioned eyes that rang out with the truth of the moment. The pair’s interplay and juxtaposition warmed and cooled like tempered iron, if not off-set by the cold water of a few opening night jitters.

Wang’s on stage ensemble of musicians sit in a curve like a tiara adorned with brightly shining jewels. Unsurpassed playing. With a particular note to Kevin Wang - I would find it incredibly tasteless to include the word ‘wow’ in an article like this, but wow. It would be even more tasteless to say it again and simplify it even further, but simply wow. The collective were ‘studio recording’ good and couldn’t be faulted. A rarity in this sphere.

This production of THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a masterclass in style, form, musicianship and design. Sent stumbling only by the limitations of a rather cramped venue which left the actors right on top of you and with nowhere to direct their energy but to the back. Sitting amongst the regular theatrical rabble that haunts these hautes, one felt like a back seat passenger in a two door 1992 Holden Barina with Orson Welles in the front seat forcing your knees to your chin. Desperate to hear what Orson has to say, but overwhelmed by the ’intimacy’ of the setting in which he says it… if only he’d move his seat forward just an inch. This gave birth to a dissonance I would have given an evening with Jason Robert Brown himself to be rid of.

Blake Condon and his team of musicians and actors don’t need me to tell them that they were good. What they need is the funding for a return season at a better venue. If my pocket-book allows it I may well be back. This time with a seat set as far back from the stage as possible.