The Last 5 Years, Duchess

Jason Robert Brown’s high concept musical charting the five-year course of a relationship with alternating viewpoints, one moving forward in time and one backwards, is rarely as clever as it likes to think it is.

As Paul Spicer’s writer Jamie meets, marries, betrays and then leaves his actress wife Cathy (Julie Atherton), her character travels from the opposite end of the timeline, the two only directly interacting as their paths cross halfway through.
Witty staging and great performances prevent the to and fro between the twoactors from becoming just a series of disjointed songs. Ultimately, though, they can’t fix the biggest problem with the musical – that the more interesting scenario of the breakup has to alternate with the description of a relationship on the way up. The best songs and performances are set in the post-marriage, pre-breakup sections of each timeline. As a result, it always feels like a great musical interrupted with frustrating amounts of backstory.

Given the harder job in having to convey a character whose story is being told backwards, Atherton manages to excel, providing heartbreak, tenderness and an ability to make the act of wringing humour out of every line seem effortless. In contrast, while Spicer’s character has a more conventional arc, it is a real struggle to feel sympathy for him, a problem that is not wholly the fault of the writing.

For all its faults, though, there is much to affect the hardest of audience hearts. One can only wonder how more effective these two actors could be when not hamstrung by a structure that does its best to work against their abilities.

_Reviewed for [The Stage](

**Duchess, London**, May 6-10
**Author:** Jason Robert Brown
**Director:** Amelia Sears
**Producer:** Jamie Hendry Productions and Neil Eckersley & Paul Spicer for Speckulation Entertainment
**Cast includes:** Julie Atherton, Paul Spicer
**Running time:** 1hr 30mins

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.