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Looking Ahead to The Last Five Years at The Epstein in Liverpool

by Chris High. Published Wed 14 Jun 2017 22:45, last updated: 14/06/17

Packed with emotion and great songs, Jason Robert Brown’s superb play-with-music The Last Five Years is set to enthral audiences The Epstein Theatre Liverpool from Thursday June 15 - Saturday June 17.

Directed by Iestyn Arwel, the play stars real life couple Graham Tudor and Helen Noble who run TREAD – Theatre, Representation, Entertainment, Acting Schools, Dramaworks – the Liverpool theatre company which this year is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Iestyn, as well as directing, appears on S4C Welsh soap Rownd a Rownd amongst many other stage and television appearances whereas West End leading actor Graham plays Jamie and has theatre credits which include playing the title role of Joseph in Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Mamma Mia and Grease.

Graham’s partner Helen, playing Cathy, is most recognised as Abby Davies from Channel 4's Hollyoaks from 2000-2005 and the number one UK tour of Tim Firth's 'Safari Party' with Christopher Timothy.

Using a unique narrative style, the story of The Last Five Years moves in two different directions; Cathy’s begins at the relationship’s tragic end and then works its way backwards towards happier times, whereas Jamie’s story goes forward in time, with all the pain and heartache to come. These two tales play out to give a complete picture of the relationship and shows, in a breathtakingly honest fashion, why love blossomed and why it faded.

“We’ve been concentrating on the text, the story line and the meaning that lies behind everything and I have to say that, so far, it’s all going really well,” Graham said during a much warranted break in rehearsals. “Iestyn’s not letting us get away with anything, which is what you’d expect, because we all want to make Jamie and Cathy as real and natural as possible.”

“Graham and I have known each other for twelve years, we met in panto, and been married for seven, so this play is quite an emotional challenge for both of us. In a way I suppose it’s just as well that we’ve not been married for five years, because it might have been a bit too much – too raw – to have done it together,” Helen laughed.

“To be truthful, the emotion of the play was a bit of a concern when we decided to go ahead with it. The nature of the story is so heartbreaking it is quite difficult to deal with as a couple acting the roles. Luckily Graham and I have an incredibly strong relationship and, in a way, it’s kind of helped us grow even stronger.

“Both of us kind of associate ourselves with elements of both Jamie and Cathy, so working on this has been helped by being able to draw on our own experiences. When we started examining the characters in depth, I think we spent three days crying. Now that’s out of the way, we can get on with moulding them to the demands of the show through the music.”

With Graham’s character being shown at the beginning of the relationship moving forward and Helen’s being at the end moving backwards, there are quite a few chronological dilemmas involved when it comes to performing.

“What we’ve found has helped has been putting things in the usual order – moving forward – as much as we can, and then dissecting the rehearsals accordingly,” Graham explained. “We reversed Helen’s order of the songs so that they were tangible and relevant to what happens throughout the play, just so we could get a handle on what’s happening ourselves.”

“It’s quite a complex piece, which just goes to show how brilliant a writer Jason Robert Brown is in being able to bring it all out into one play that makes sense. The trick is to know where the characters are coming from and where they’re going to. Another challenge is to not have somebody on stage to interact with some of the time, because the character in question isn’t actually there.”

“You are constantly asking questions within a song or a piece of dialogue, which only gets answered over time. This is where a director like Iestyn comes into his own. He has to get us to go there on an emotional level then get us to strip back everything we can with regards to the music; this really isn’t a musical, but rather a play with music that burrows down to the very core of Jamie and Cathy both together and apart.”

As in life opposites are most likely to attract and so it is with Cathy and Jamie. Cathy is an ambitious-but-struggling actress with ambitions and dreams of making it big, whereas Jamie has already made it as a writer.

“Cathy isn’t really getting anywhere, which is her major frustration,” Helen said. “She’s also searching for the ideal man and hasn’t had a great deal of success in that area either … until she meets Jamie. When she does, she’s willing to throw everything into the relationship – get married, have a family, settle down … all that – but still she has all of those personal battles raging inside. She wants to be seen as being as successful as he is, which kind of turns into jealousies, insecurities and a deep seated paranoia which only increases when they get married.”

“Jamie is the polar opposite of Cathy,” Jamie said. “He’s very self-confident and relatively quickly gets everything he wants from his career: the girl, the job, the apartment … all of which is summed up brilliantly in the song Moving Too Fast. Where Cathy feels insecure, Jamie feels invincible. In fact the only chink in his armour is shown when he proposes because he thinks she might just turn him down.

“She doesn’t, of course, so he has nothing to learn from, the mistakes he’s making, and so just ploughs on being as he’s always been. He’s pretty self-obsessed and quite cowardly in blaming Cathy for not backing him after he has ‘given’ her everything he thinks she wants.”

“The beauty of The Last Five Years definitely lies in the fact that the audience can see both sides of the story and see who does what to whom, why and how it all turns out,” Helen added. “At the end of the day, they’re both as guilty as each other, but in real life we only ever hear one side – that of our closest friend from the relationship – who generally blames the other partner entirely. That can’t happen in this play, as the audience are with them both each step of the way.”

In TREADs tenth anniversary year, the production of The Last Five Years can be said to mark something of a turning point for both Graham and Helen as actors. “I think for both us it signifies something of a return to the stage,” Helen said. “We’re both from theatrical backgrounds, but for the past ten years we have chosen to develop young Merseyside based talent.”

“We have a young family ourselves now and the industry isn’t something either of us has wanted or been able to commit to, so that’s what we have thrown our energy into instead. Now though it feels like the right time to get back out there, where we started, and sort of celebrate what it is we have achieved over the past decade."

"We’ve also found that the students have developed their confidence, which has had a huge beneficial impact on their education and social skills. We had one boy who loved to play piano, but never had the confidence to play in front of an audience. Through his involvement with TREAD, though, that confidence grew and grew until he did finally perform on stage, playing the piano and so he developed as a musician.”

“The aim of the tenth year, also,” Graham added, “was to put on four major productions in 2017. We staged West End Story here recently with all of our academy students, then there is The Last Five Years, followed by a tenth anniversary production in July once more here at The Epstein then a big, full on blow out with the professional pantomime at Christmas.”

“We run acting sessions at The Epstein on Saturday’s for people aged 9 to 21 – some of whom have gone on to things like Silent Witness and Harriet’s Army on TV – so if anybody wants to get involved they should just head over to our website. We’re also open to advancing new work, so if anybody has something they think is the next The Last Five Years or whatever then they should get in touch. We are open to absolutely anything, because we don’t want to be putting on the same shows over and over again. We want to be pushing boundaries, encouraging new students in a professional way to challenge themselves which in turn challenges us as actors.”

TREAD also work in primary schools and with societies working with the disabled. “One of the most exciting and rewarding things we did recently was working alongside the Society for the Blind out in Kendall, Sight Advice,” Graham said. “We were doing drama workshops to improve and develop their confidence and establishing their place in society. It was one of the most enlightening and thrilling workshops we’ve ever done. The feedback was phenomenal and everybody had such a great and rewarding day, building individual confidences from the inside out.”

So, what can an audience expect from The Last Five Years? “It is written to reflect every single moment of this relationship, but so emotively it is guaranteed to have more than a few tears flowing by its end. It really is that beautifully written. Yes it’s a musical, but not the usual kind where the songs fit the story but rather tell the story in a theatrical manner,” Helen said.

“I don’t think anybody is going to go out singing the songs like they will from Mamma Mia or something like that, but they will go away thinking about what the songs mean and what they relate to, because you get so involved in the story and the emotions of the play, that it stops becoming a musical in many ways and more of a musical narrative. It really is a beautiful, emotional piece of work which will appeal to everybody on some level.”

The Last Five Years
Dates: Thursday 15th - Saturday 17th June
Times: 7.30pm
Tickets: From £19 to £22

To book tickets please call 0844 888 4411* or go online at www.epsteinliverpool.co.uk* or in person at The Epstein Theatre Box Office from 2pm - 6pm Monday - Thursday and 12pm-6pm Friday - Saturday.

*Subject to booking fee. All prices include a £1 per ticket venue restoration levy

Tickets are also available to book via TicketQuarter at www.ticketquarter.co.uk or call 0844 800 0410.

For more details check out www.epsteinliverpool.co.uk and join our mailing list. Follow us on Facebookwww.facebook.com/EpsteinTheatre and twitter @EpsteinTheatre.


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