La Boite Theatre presents bittersweet love story The Last Five Years, a sung-through musical that follows one young couple as they unpick their five-year relationship from beginning to end and back again.

The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years, La Boite Theatre, 2022. Photo © Morgan Roberts

Directed by Darren Yap, with musical direction by James Dobinson, The Last Five Years is a 90-minute musical autopsy of a marriage. The plot follows Jamie and Cathy, both aspiring artists in their twenties – Jamie a novelist, and Cathy an actress – and unravels their love story in two different directions. Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown, based on his own first marriage, the musical premiered in 2001 and has since become a contemporary musical theatre staple.

Cathy’s narrative, and the opening number, places the audience at the end of the relationship and moves backwards towards the excitement of new love, while Jamie’s narrative progresses forward in time after their first date. The two characters share space, but not time, intersecting for only one scene, and one song, at their wedding. Jamie’s star is on the rise, but Cathy is struggling to break into the industry, and their marriage is challenged by his fame and success. As resentment and distance grow between the couple in Jamie’s timeline, Cathy is returning to the sweetness of first dates and falling in love. This dual perspective offers different sides to the same story as the characters grapple with love, success, resentment, self-doubt, and infidelity.

Robert Brown’s sweet and moving score was performed live onstage, with the cellists, violinist, and guitarists positioned on the upper levels of the set. In addition to his role as the show’s Musical Director, James Dobinson joined the performers onstage as the pianist. Despite both singers using headset microphones, the music occasionally overwhelmed their voices throughout.

Robert Tripolino delivered a consistently excellent and high-energy performance as Jamie, his expressive body language evolving noticeably as the show progressed chronologically for his character. Starring alongside him as Cathy was Queensland Conservatorium graduate Danielle Remulta who, despite a halting start vocally, mostly kept pace with Tripolino, especially in the second half. While Remulta delivered several outstanding vocal moments of her own, the inconsistency was noticeable in the two-hander structure, with no dialogue or other breaks, and contributed to the pairing feeling unbalanced. Although both actors delivered emotionally engaging performances individually, their onstage chemistry as a couple felt less believable.

The Last Five Years

The Last Five Years, La Boite Theatre, 2022. Photo © Morgan Roberts

Choreography by Benjamin Osborne added subtly to each character. Tripolino bounced through his earlier numbers, becoming more subdued as the work progressed, and Remulta became more expressive as her story continued backwards in time towards optimistic young love. Although most of the blocking and choreography purposefully kept the characters physically separated, they did come together later in the musical. The lyrics regularly referred to the number of years that had passed in the relationship, clarifying the timeline, but the sense of place was not always clear as the action moved between New York and Ohio without any noticeable changes onstage.

The Last Five Years was staged predominantly towards the back of the Roundhouse Theatre, using a multi-level set that also showcased the musicians and a catwalk-style raised stage in the centre. The aisle stairs were incorporated effectively into the staging, bringing the characters closer to the audience, but this thrust configuration created a further distance between the audience and the characters, making some of the action difficult to follow from the side seating banks. While the Roundhouse Theatre generally lends itself to intimate storytelling, this potential felt unrealised for The Last Five Years.

Lighting design by Ben Hughes was used effectively to distinguish the timelines and to direct audience attention to the current perspective as the characters moved around the large set. Sound design by Brady Watkins added to the atmosphere of the scenes and emphasised key moments, such as the reverberation of Jamie’s book reading. Costume design by Chloe Greaves, who also designed the set, helped to affirm the timeline through changes in style, and several key costume pieces and props recurred throughout both Cathy and Jamie’s stories.

This is an entertaining production with a number of impressive vocal and musical moments, but it fails to elicit the emotional engagement that might be expected of this heartfelt song cycle.

The Last Five Years plays at the Roundhouse Theatre, Brisbane until 18 June.

Contribute to Limelight and support independent arts journalism.