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THE LAST FIVE YEARS @ Don Russell Performing Arts Centre gets 8/10


The Last Five Years
@ Don Russell Performing Arts Centre
Saturday, January 25, 2020

8/10

Art in Motion Theatre Company has crafted a theatre experience with a difference for Fringe festival-goers this year. Directors Lys Tickner and Tyler Elderidge set out to give audience members one show two ways, and have done it so expertly that The Last Five Years can be considered an undeniable success.

Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown, The Last Five Years is a clever series of monologues each sung by a two-person cast. Cathy (played by Charlotte Williams and Grace Johnson) starts the story lamenting the end of their five-year relationship, while Jamie’s (Lachlan Obst and Justin Gray) first song explodes with the passion and excitement of their early days. Based on Brown’s first marriage, this story is a brilliant exposé on the complex roller coaster emotions of young love.

We observe Jamie, a writer, and Cathy, an actress, navigating the give and take dynamics of a relationship. We see how they work through a journey of failure and success with the tumultuous addition of competing egos. The music and lyrics evoke a heart-wrenching tango of a love story entwined with a brutal breakup. The Next Ten Minutes, poetically being the only duet sung by the pair, is the intersection where the two accounts meet briefly, the marriage proposal where the two timelines cross in the middle with a sweet ballad.

The goal of directors Tickner and Eldridge was to give audiences the opportunity for a side-by-side comparison of how different production teams interpret a script. Both directors have worked together in the past, but took a chance on experimenting with their very different styles. Under the direction of Tickner, the Blue Team comprised of sweet duet Charlotte Williams as Cathy and Lachlan Obst as Jamie, backed by a beautiful seven-piece orchestra. Expertly led by musical director Tara Oorjitham, the deep tones of the bass and cellos danced with the light violin and piano lines, forcing the audience’s heartstrings to play along with the emotional symphony. The live sound of the orchestra overwhelms the vocal mix, so the sound mix is optimal from behind the second row of chairs. Williams and Obst brought the story to life in a single set, a simply laid out apartment, utilising surrounding spaces on the stage and varied lighting to execute extra scenes.

Williams as Cathy for the Blue Team begins curled up on the couch with the melancholy, cello-driven Still Hurting. The variety and depth of emotion conveyed by her in this simple scene is extraordinary. This young actor captivates the audience within the first few lines of this song, drawing them into her regret and pain. The extra dimension in which Williams portrays her bitterness is clear, while avoiding the truth of the situation and spoiling the story: “Jamie has new dreams he’s building upon, and I’m still hurting.” Williams delivers this powerhouse ballad with confident expertise, and packs into a box photos and books presumably belonging to Jamie. She exits in darkness as the scene abruptly transitions to a bright salsa tune expressing Jamie’s enthusiasm about Cathy, this Shiksa Goddess he’s head over heels about.

Obst shines in his first number, showing off a great voice and an endearing awkwardness well suited in this portrayal of a young writer. As he joyously raves about them moving in together, he unpacks the box of his belongings, packed up by disillusioned Cathy in the previous scene. These cleverly directed details and swift changing of gears is indicative of the nature of the drama, switching order as the story unfolds in opposite directions. Multiple scene transitions are drawn out slightly with musical interludes for the actors’ quick costume changes, Williams seemingly changing for every scene while keeping her focus being no small feat.

After a quick dinner break and breather, our second production by the Red Team delivers something so different that it brings a clever fresh perspective. Paring the band back to keyboards, bass and guitar doesn’t in any way detract from the beauty of the music, but more so highlights just how skilfully the score has been crafted. Director Eldridge wore the musical director hat as well for this team, expertly conducting his band and adding extra instrumentation. Grace Johnson and Justin Gray embodied a very different style of character representing Cathy and Jamie. Johnson’s refined voice and glowing beauty made an interesting and enjoyable juxtaposition against Gray’s gruff appearance and soulful vocal acrobatics.

The style of Red Team’s presentation was on the whole more simple with minimalist costume changes and the arranging of white wooden chairs to symbolise different set configurations. This performance is perhaps more obscure to those audience members who are unfamiliar with the story. No matter which order they are viewed, repeating the show allows audiences to engage in a new way, picking up on moments missed and building on the story, giving both representations new meaning.

There’s no comparing the two teams, the adaptations were so different and so wonderfully designed. It is a theatre experience leaving audiences members educated and enriched. Don Russell Performing Arts Centre in Thornlie is a great, intimate venue south of Perth with ample parking and dining options close by. Art in Motion have worked hard and taken worthy risks to bring this story to life.

JEMMA KUCHEL

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