Mary Couzens of EXTRA! EXTRA!

The Last Five Years at the Menier Chocolate Factory

This acclaimed, fast-paced musical by New York composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown follows the five-year life span of the relationship of Cathy (Lara Pulver) and Jamie (Damian Humbley) from first meeting, through marriage to breakup.

The Last Five Years at the Menier Chocolate Factory
Cathy (Lara Pulver) and Jamie (Damian Humbley). Photo by Tristram Kenton

Cathy's perspective on what happened to their love begins in the present time and moves back to the couple's first date. Jamie's view works in the reverse, starting with their magnetic meeting. The only time their stories intertwine is on their wedding day.

The opening number, 'Still Hurting' is as moving a song about heartache as any you'll find in any musical, and Lara Pulver handles it very well. She begins the ballad lying on a double bed alone in a darkened room and ends it sitting dejectedly on the bedroom floor. Her husband Jamie has left her a goodbye letter, accompanied by his wedding ring. Conversely, Humbley's starting point is about as far from sad as you can get with his 'nice Jewish boy' enthusiasm bursting into comic rapture on 'Shiksa Goddess.' And so it goes, with the couple expressing the joys and sorrows of their life together.

The songs are a mixed bag with Yiddish, Latino, Sondheim and many other musical influences intertwined, and the lyrics are, more often than not, right on the money. Jamie's songs, 'Moving Too Fast' and 'The Next Ten Minutes,' provide insight into where he's at during the early stages of their relationship. 'Climbing Uphill' is another highlight, with Cathy at an audition in which the contemporary torch song she's been rehearsing evolves into a lament about everything from her pinching shoes to wondering why in the world she picked the song she's supposedly singing.

The timely orchestration of David Farley's imaginative designs, between revolving, versatile set and sliding opaque black screens, enhances the flow of the storyline. David Howe's lighting allows for simultaneous scenes centring on Jamie, as he pursues his career as a novelist, and Cathy wondering when if ever she is going to get a break. Boating in Central Park is very also cleverly mimicked through collaborative set design and lighting.

The lovely melody of 'Goodbye Until Tomorrow' at the conclusion, as Jamie reminisces about their lost love while Cathy basks in the afterglow of their first encounter, echoes a timeless cinematic note, a la Chaplin's bittersweet refrain from Limelight, 'Smile (While Your Heart is Aching).'

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