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Review: The Last Five Years

Sophia Dickinson

In the cosy, bohemian atmosphere of Teatro Vivaldi, Canberra’s newest theatre company, Dramatic Productions, brings us the intimate tale of Cathy and Jamie — an American couple who, after five years together, are getting a divorce.

Cathy tells the story from end to beginning, and Jamie tells it from beginning to end. The two characters only interact when their stories intersect in the middle.

It’s a very clever script with the kind of genuine emotional depth that I’d expect from a French film, but without the weird metaphors (e.g. in Love me if you dare [Jeux d’enfants], the characters end up entombed in concrete). There’s a nice contrast between Cathy, whose life is falling apart, and Jamie for whom everything is going right.

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The show has two casts — Vanessa de Jager and Fraser Findlay who play the lead roles in first week of the show’s program, and Josie Dunham and Mathew Chardon O’Dea in the second week. I saw Vanessa and Fraser, and was blown away by their performances!

Vanessa is a Canberra superstar on the local stage. She’s tackled such challenging roles as Eponine in Les Miserables (the role played by Samantha Barks in the 2012 movie) and understudied Elle Woods in Legally Blonde in the 2014 Canberra production. Her performance in The Last Five Years was intense and moving. She has again risen to the demands of a role that requires vocal strength and emotional depth.

Fraser only moved to Canberra in November 2014, but he has already appeared in La Cage aux Folles and Mary Poppins. The audience relished his performance in The Last Five Years, whistling as he danced and applauding enthusiastically at his singing. His rendition of ‘The Schmuel Song” was particularly entertaining.

I’ve no doubt Josie and Matt will be brilliant too. Both veterans of the Canberra stage, Director Richard Block shares that they bring their own strengths to the show.

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“Matt and Josie have a very different approach [to Vanessa and Fraser], even down to the blocking. I allowed both casts to play with their interpretations of the show,” he says.

I enjoyed the restaurant setting, even though it was a bit crowded and sometimes you had to shuffle around a bit to see what was happening. They use the space well, entering through different parts of the restaurant and sometimes getting behind the bar. Richard says he’s always wanted to do a show at Vivaldi’s, and it suited this show.

The Last Five Years is a very different experience for the audience because of the atmosphere and set up. Vivaldi’s allows that.”

Vivaldi’s certainly has a lot of character; the walls are covered in Venetian masks, signed photos of theatre personalities and souvenirs from past shows. It was a nice change from sitting in a theatre, and patrons took the opportunity to chat to people at the tables around them.

I can’t personally vouch for the food as my ticket was for the show only but in any case for a three-course meal and a show, it’s quite good value.

Richard is also the founder of Dramatic Productions and what’s unique about this company is that the actors get paid. While some local companies operate as co-ops (sharing the profits with cast members), some pay the orchestra and some only pay professional cast members, Richard wanted to create a model where everyone is acknowledged for their hard work.

“I’m trying to be fair,” he says. “Everyone in the production team, on stage, the crew and the orchestra gets the same fee [and a share of the profits]. I wanted to recognise that everyone brings a significant contribution to a production.”

He also wanted to help Canberra’s many dedicated and talented local performers.

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“This model gives performers chance to do paid work for their CVs and it’s a stepping stone into a professional career.”

Another motivating factor for Richard was his desire to present Canberra audiences with shows they might not have seen before, and give performers the opportunity to do new roles.

“There are so many wonderful shows that don’t get to see the light of day or are done infrequently in Canberra,” he says.

The Last Five Years was also the first time I’d seen the work of musical director Damien Slingsby. Damien grew up and studied in Canberra, he has played all over the world and has now, lucky for us, returned to Canberra. One of my favourite parts of the show was Cathy’s audition sequence when she interacts with the cheeky piano player who seemingly hates her.

The Last Five Years is full of exceptional local talent and makes for a unique date or night out with your besties. And if you want something really special, head along to the black tie opening with cast two on April 30. 

The essentials

What: The Last Five Years
Where: Teatro Vivaldi Restaurant, ANU Arts Centre, University Avenue
When: April 24 to May 2
How much: Three-course dinner and show (8pm), $70-$90; Canapés and show (2pm), $30-$50

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Sophia Dickinson

Sophia is a true Canberra girl having been born and raised here, and she now works in the public service. She loves Canberra for all it has given her from a great education, fulfilling work to opportunities to indulge her love of dance and music. She is passionate about travel and writing, and studied post-graduate media and communication. She has appeared in several local amateur theatre productions, although she prefers to be an audience member these days. More about the Author

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