Co-directors Lydia Rae Stephenson and Grace Brimacombe-Rand discuss their production of The Last Five Years, the internationally acclaimed musical by Jason Robert Brown, presented by DULOG. 

Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years is a musical that warrants returning to, especially in an academic year that has been defined for so many students as one of either physical or emotional separation from one another. Cathy and Jamie’s relationship is characterised by this same separation as their crisis in communication slowly causes their marriage to crumble. By bringing the musical from the early 2000’s up to the present, we think that the show has the capacity to reflect how many Durham students feel coming to the close of this term – elated, relieved, but also probably overwhelmed and daunted by the expectations placed upon them by themselves and others.

This external pressure can be felt in the intimate staging of our production. It is heightened by our choice to have the couple remain together on stage at all times and by virtue of the score, separated throughout in time and place as the musical tracks their relationship through intersecting and opposing timelines. We wanted to see Cathy and Jamie exist in the same space on stage without making contact, using one another’s props and sets to mirror the connections between them that are woven into the score and heighten the intimacy of our staging. Opening with Cathy singing from the end of their relationship and Jamie after they have met for the first time, the couple only share the same temporal point for one song, singing to and for one another throughout but unable to communicate directly. This divide is mediated by the score and our band, whose presence on stage allows for them to function as an extension of the cast, the music tying them together throughout.

Working on this production for only a matter of weeks has allowed both the production team and our cast to appreciate the complexity of Cathy and Jamie’s relationship. It has expanded our understanding of the show to embrace more of its comedy as well as its resonance with the instability and ferocity of the relationships in this period in our lives, especially this past year. While many of us initially approached the show and the relationship between Cathy and Jamie as one where blame and fault can easily be laid, working through the songs and developing the characters allowed our actors especially to expose each character’s fallibility and the very human fears of failure and isolation which drive them throughout the musical.

The Last Five Years is a show that has been revived and reworked countless times since its conception twenty years ago, yet it remains relevant and necessary to the contemporary moment. As the final production that we will work on during our time at Durham, we are delighted to have directed a musical we both adore and bring our music and theatre experience together in this production. We both feel very fortunate to have worked with such a dedicated and creative band, production team and cast and are immensely proud to have brought our cast together for Evie Press’ first onstage production at Durham and Ollie Stockley’s last production as a finalist. Thank you to everyone involved for the opportunity to put on live theatre again at long last!

Image credit: DULOG. 

The Last Five Years performs at The Assembly Rooms Theatre at 7pm from 22nd to 25th June. Tickets are available to purchase here