GIVE a round of applause to actor Simon Radford, who has been travelling back and forth from Edinburgh to rehearse with director and fellow cast member Claire Pulpher for York company White Rose Theatre’s production of The Last Five Years.
One week of crossing and re-crossing the border has been followed by a further week of rehearsals, now in situ in North Yorkshire, but still involving plenty of movement, taking in Our Lady’s Church Hall in Acomb, a day at Ripon Arts Hub, in All Hallowgate, Ripon, followed by two performances there last Thursday and Friday, and a day of rehearsing and filming a promotional video at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York.
From tomorrow until Saturday, Simon and Claire will perform Jason Robert Brown’s emotionally charged American musical there with a six-piece band led by musical director John Atkin, who accompanied the duo on piano in Ripon.
Joining Atkin will be Marcus Bousfield on violin; Rachel Brown and Lucy McLuckie on cello; Paul McArthur on guitar and the ubiquitous Christian Topman on bass.
“It’s been pretty intensive in rehearsal, more like a professional process, crammed into a short time,” says Claire, who plays struggling Ohio actress Cathy Hiatt opposite Simon’s rising novelist, Jamie Wellerstein, as Brown charts the path of two lovers over the course of five years of courting and marriage, trials and tribulations.
She is delighted to be working with Simon as they unite for York’s newest theatre company. “We first met when doing Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods with Pick Me Up Theatre at the Grand Opera House in 2014,” recalls Claire. “The Last Five Years is my favourite show and Simon’s favourite show, and ever since I met Jon Atkin, when he was the musical director for Chess in 2019, we’d wanted to do the show together.
“We thought, ‘let’s make it happen’, and we’ve all put ideas together and it’s somehow happened!”
She first saw the show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2008/2009. “But we’ve never seen it done locally, so I set about organising the licence. I’ve directed shows, choreographed shows, but I’ve never produced a show before, so that was a new challenge, me being a novice!
“But as a two-person, one-act show, it was affordable, and we didn’t have to panic about getting the rights as no-one else around here was after it,” she says.
“It’s over an hour long, more like 90 minutes with no interval, and when I saw it at the Fringe, it was staged in a pub off the beaten track, and it’s stayed with me as a show ever since.
“The way I saw it presented, the band was on stage and they became immersed in the performance, with each performer singing alone, Cathy to an imaginary Jamie, and vice versa, except in the duets. We’re doing the same.”
In Brown’s theatrical structure, Cathy’s side of the story starts at the end of the relationship; Jamie tells his tale from the beginning, but will they ever meet in the middle in a musical full of laughter, tears and everything in between, played out to a score of upbeat songs and beautiful ballads?
“It’s a rom-com but so relatable as it’s a bit more naturalistic, maybe even uncomfortable, because we’ve all been through those trials and tribulations,” says Claire. “It’s showing things the creative arts don’t normally show.
“The relationship is seen from each perspective, presented as internal monologues rather than discussions, as they go in opposite directions on the time line with each song.
“Jamie is 23 at the start when he gets his first book deal, and he’s hugely successful from a young age with everything moving so fast that gradually everything spirals out of control. Cathy is struggling in her acting work, and so their career paths are contrasting and are not aligning.”
The Last Five Years will be staged over the next four days with a sound design by Ollie Nash and lighting by Ruth Symington. Tickets for tomorrow to Saturday’s 7.30pm performances and Saturday’s 2.30pm matinee are on sale at tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.