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Festival Review: The Last Five Years ***

Scott Purvis reviews 'a simple yet effectively staged piece'.

Like Saint Sondheim before him, composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown bathes in the golden glow as a messiah of the intellectual, crafted musical and nowhere is that more evident than in this clever two-hander.

The Last Five Years is a structurally complex cycle of sung dramatic monologues which explore the growth and decay of a relationship in two directions - the girfriend's version of events begins at the end of the love affair; the boyfriend's version of events begins at... well... the beginning. The musical shapes itself, one puzzle piece song at a time, into an emotionally shape-shifting story of infidelity and loyalty, jealousy and ambition, love and hate.

Here, young writer Jamie finds success as his wife's acting career flounders, finding the optimistic souls who began their relationship with cartoon-hearts in their eyes caught in the rot of monogamy. This tight ninety-minute long show plays the human heart like a violin - it is sometimes beautiful and sometimes mournful.

The actor playing Kathy is able to touch the character's anxieties and hopes with light fingers and hammering fists. She is laugh-out-loud funny during songs such as "A Summer in Ohio" and "Climbing Uphill" and her clear voice carries a true, soft pain as she dirges through "Still Hurting." Jamie, too, is quickly endearing as the increasingly arrogant writer, taking a few more songs to ease into the role but roaring into his final solo with a rocky angst which punches the pain at the centre of this piece.

This production of The Last Five Years is a simply yet effectively staged piece. Although the direction can be a little too literal at points, it remains a challenging, beautifully performed and passionate production which will speak to the soul of anyone who has watched love turn to loss and stared at a Valentine, wondering where it all went wrong.

At PQA Venues at Riddle's Court August 2-26 (not 12 or 19) at 1400.

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