Dir. Tommy Rowe, produced by Kate Kitchens, starring Emma Seckel and Struan Erlenborn
The cast of The Last Five Years had a largely unenviable task in bringing this show to the stage. Sure, this is the first musical Just So has put on in the Byre since the glamorously dishevelled ‘Hair’ in 2012. Sure, this is a beautifully written song-cycle by one of the greatest writers in the genre. Sure, the show chronicles two fascinatingly flawed characters discussing their failed marriage across some really great music. But it’s two actors singing through a whole lot of music each. Seckel and Erlenborn exhibited some of the most impressive stamina I have ever seen on stage in St Andrews, and for that, at the very least, they should be praised. It helped that the show was damn good as well. Song cycles are incredibly difficult to do- you’re singing through a whole show, and there are going to be songs that are weaker than others. This is much harder to cover for in songs than in dialogue, but if that was the case with this show, it’s a credit to the cast that I never noticed any gaps- either in performance or in text.
The Last Five Years tells the story of a marriage between two young artists in Manhattan. Jamie is a successful writer, and Kathy is a struggling actress. When we first meet Kathy, she is coldly examining the wedding ring Jamie has left for her, and when we first meet Jamie, he is singing about the first time he meets Kathy. And there the story goes- he moving backward in time and her moving forwards, revealing painful truths about each other while telling the story of why their marriage failed from their perspectives. It’s a really, really painful show, but it’s absolutely beautiful as well- Kathy and Jamie feel like wonderfully real people, and Seckel and Erlenborn do well to make them sympathetic. The show itself is simply staged, with each actor having one side of the stage, and each side was lit when each person was singing. One of the few complaints I had with the production were the scene changes- the transitions between each song were so minimal I would have either have liked each blackout to feel more deliberately used, or for there to have been some kind of musical transition to make each blackout feel clearer. The few moments when each song ran into the other were well done, as there were some moments with arguments bleeding across time between Kathy and Jamie. One of the most notable examples was between ‘Climbing Uphill’ and ‘If I Didn’t Believe In You,’ which worked incredibly well.
In looking at the performances of the two actors, Emma Seckel and Struan Erlenborn, their vocal talent was across the board incredible. In effect, each of them gave monologues in song form for the whole show, and one of the most successful aspects was that both managed to create believable performances while singing their hearts out. One of the most touching moments was the first time the two actors interacted face to face. It’s a credit to their performances that I believed they were speaking to each other every single time they were meant to be. By the end of the show, my sympathies were complicated- whose fault was it that their marriage failed? There is an easy answer here, but that’s not the point- both cast members made me care about both characters equally, and showed that there are two sides to each story. The cast and crew should be incredibly proud of this show. I loved it, imperfections and all, and I have a feeling I’ll be blasting the music in the library for a while.