A wonderful new production by the Eglesfield Musical Society opened last night to thunderous applause. ‘The Last Five Years’ is a fresh, contemporary production that breaks away from the typical romantic tropes of musicals and explores life after the happy-ever-after ending. For our couple, who make up the whole cast, love is not the walk in the park they had hoped it to be: between career ambitions and the grass-is-always-greener mindset of considering life with different people, their original rush of romance quickly falls away after their wedding day. The story comes to us through alternating solo performances: one from our leading lady, Cathy, and then from her husband, Jamie, back and forth, laying out their version of events and revealing their conflicted state of mind about letting go of the person they love.

            The episodic, non-linear structure of the story line makes for engaging viewing as we piece together the events and emotional fluctuations of their last five years together. At times it can be challenging to know where the current fragment of narrative fits into their chronology, but this becomes clearer as you connect with the characters. Despite the heavy nature of the subject matter – the breakdown of a relationship and subsequent split – the narrative is punctuated by wonderful moments of light-heartedness and humour, which are brought out of the script by the astute direction of Ollie Khurshid and musical direction of Isaac Adni . 

            Because of this range of emotional registers, the production is a challenge for any performer, but the ensemble cast masterfully achieves the necessary levels of pathos and comedy. The story is divided into two seamless acts, where the cast is rotated so we see two Cathy’s (Harriet Nokes and Grace de Souza) and two Jamie’s (Dec Foster and Cormac Diamond). The transition between these two ‘chapters’ is artfully woven into the performance, with the handover occurring in the wedding scene, so we see all four actors together. What this establishes is a sense of Cathy and Jamie as an archetype of the struggling couple – it is not a struggle limited to one particular couple, but a universal experience: any of us could be in their shoes. 

            The emotional range that the cast successfully draws upon throughout the performance was particularly impressive and it was within their acting that Jason Robert Brown’s score came alive. Despite some problematics elements of the script which include an underdevelopment of Cathy’s character,  both Grace de Souza and Harriet Nokes’ performances kept me gripped to the storyline. The beautiful variety and development of the cast’s different voices brought out the importance of the director’s decision to double up on the cast for Cathy and Jamie. A reversal of tone for both Cathy and Jamie was captured charmingly: Dec Foster kicked it off with a whole host of comedic and loveable moments, while Cormac Diamond took over with a strength and power which carried a lot of the emotional toil of the production. 

The decision to present the musicians to the audience directly by placing them at the back of the stage, arching outwards from the grand piano was particularly interesting as it meant that they became crucial to the set. My eye continuously fell upon them as if they were part of the cast and, picking up on the occasional piece of jazz piano, or pluck of a string, was also crucial to keeping the emotional tension of the musical at all times. The collection of instruments was very fresh and felt in line with the contemporaneity of the production as we see both acoustic and electric guitar alongside two cellists and a violinist.  

When the time came for the cast to convene all together, there was an undeniable air of emotional exhaustion in the audience. The power of the play comes in the almost universal nature of its themes, brought out exquisitely by cast and crew. There was emotional baggage as well as beautiful harmonies; this Eglesfield Musical Society production is not one to miss!

Loveday Pride

Loveday is the Visual Arts Editor for The Oxford Blue. She studies Fine Art at Queens and is in her first year. When not editing articles, she is probably painting pugs.