|Graham Tudor and Helen Noble|
Provided By: Epstein Theatre
The Last Five Years is one of the more unique musical dramas that you are likely to see. It is a story about two lovers whose relationship seems bright and prosperous, only for it to sink in the years to come. However, the way in which the story is told, and the subjects tackled, elevate this show to another level, and resonate more closely with the audience. The Last Five Years is heading to the Epstein Theatre this June, and to find out more about it, we spoke to the leading couple - and a real-life husband and wife partnership - Graham Tudor and Helen Noble.
First of all, tell us about The Last Five Years.
Graham Tudor: The Last Five Years is a musical written by Jason Robert Brown. It's kind of a love story between two New Yorkers in the 1990s. He's a hot-shot, an up-and-coming writer who becomes very, very successful, and Cathy's an aspiring but struggling actress.
Helen Noble: It's really the story of their relationship and how they deal with those circumstances ...
Graham: And how the outside factors affect their relationship; he becomes successful and she doesn't, so it's about how that has an impact on their relationship. The story is told brilliantly because his story starts at the very beginning when he's starting out, and by the end of it, he actually ends up cheating on her which ends the relationship.
Helen: But you know that from the beginning, which is the clever thing about this musical, because it follows her story from the end of the relationship. It goes in the opposite direction, so we never actually interact on stage; we're telling a story in two different ways. It's like two different sides of the story. The story meets in the middle when they get married, and then it crosses over into different directions again. It's hard to explain, but it makes sense on stage! (Laughs)
Graham: Musically, it takes you on that journey as well, so you get a sense of where it's going, who the characters are, understanding the pain that they're in, the stress that they're under with their relationship which is really cool. It's a very challenging musical to do, especially as two actors who are married, so we're going somewhere that we haven't been before. We've obviously had our arguments and things ...
Helen: Have we? (Laughs)
Graham: Plus we've got two young children, so we've gone through a few of life's tribulations. The musical really does strike a chord with us, so we're looking forward to doing it.
Have either of you previously seen either the original theatre production or the movie adaptation?
Helen: When we first listened to the musical, we both fell in love with it straight away, as well as the music, and we're both really intrigued to see how it's done on stage. We contemplated going to watch the West End production with Samantha Barks and Jonathan Bailey at the St. James' Theatre.
Graham: But our director Iestyn Arwel said to avoid seeing anything at the moment.
Helen: And it's so true because we've avoided watching anything and we're just now trying to work on it for ourselves to create our own versions of these characters.
Graham: Once you start listening to outside influences, you can start to make choices on how you're going to play it, whereas it's nice to do it from a personal point of view. Plus, Iestyn is also a very good friend of ours, so he knows us well, he knows it inside out, he knows how to make us tick.
Helen: And he knows how to make us cry! (Laughs)
Graham: Yeah, he's going to take us to some very raw places, so I think it's going to be very, very challenging.
As you mentioned, this show is unique in that you two are not only the lead couple in the show, but also a husband and wife in reality. How did the two of you meet, and how does your relationship enhance your performances together on stage?
Helen: We met working together as actors; we met nearly 12 years ago now.
Graham: It was in pantomime (laughs) at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, in a show with The Chuckle Brothers! Helen was playing Princess Apricot, and I was playing Jack. We did a month-and-a-half of shows, and we'd get married in the show twice a day, so we decided to just get married anyway! (Laughs)
Helen: So because that's how we met, we're very used to working with each other. We run our own company, Tread Productions, where we work with performing arts schools, so we're used to working together.
Graham: The difference with this show, though, is that we don't actually work together. It sounds strange, but there's only a moment or two where we get to interact, but in actual fact, it's just a group of monologues, like in a play where you'll get a monologue from a character, as opposed to duologues or major interactions or productions. There's none of that here; it's very stripped-back, it's very raw, and it tells the relationship from each character's point of view.
Does that affect stage directions since, as husband and wife, it's more natural for you to, say, maintain eye contact, but in this particular show, you can't?
Helen: Yeah, it is very challenging in that sense. It's down to the clever direction for how we make that work. Other than the scene where they actually get married, we are not interacting, which I think I am quite relieved by, because if I had to interact with him on-stage, I think I'd get distracted! (Laughs)
Graham: But again, I think the whole premise of the show lends itself to that very stripped-back musical so it's not your typical jukebox musical like Mamma Mia; it's not going to have that. The people who love plays and who love that hard-hitting, Blood Brothers-type show; this has got all the elements of that, so there's some fun and some comedy moments, but you don't go out clapping, singing and dancing, as you go out having felt like you've been on a real emotional roller coaster. That's a key to how this musical is and what it's all about.
What are the highlights of both of your careers to date, and what are yous hoping to achieve in the future?
Helen: Personally, I think that my career has been quite varied. I started out doing small-scale theatre, then I went into television, and then I went back into theatre. Now, with Graham's influence, I've been dragged into musical theatre (laughs)!
Graham: To the dark side! (Laughs)
Helen: There's so many highlights that I could talk about, because I feel that all of my combined experiences got me to where I am now, and as an actor I think that you're always growing. You're always developing and learning, which is so important, and this musical really tests both of us in very different ways. For me, it's more from a vocal point of view, because I've not sang in a show as challenging as this one before.
Graham: There's a lot of work going on behind the scenes. As Helen said, I'm a West End musical theatre actor, that's what I've been known for, but this is unlike any other musical, so it's challenging physically, too, as the characters are somewhat younger than us. I'm the wrong side of 30 and this character is 23! So, a lot of processes go into it. Being in musicals like Grease and Mamma Mia and Joseph, they're not as deep and as hard-hitting as this one. Helen mentioned how it'll be challenging vocally, whereas for me it's more challenging when it comes to the acting. We're both going through processes; Helen is having vocal coaching with Andy Follin, who is one of the top singing coaches in the North West, and I'm going through the process of learning the emotional connection between the characters. We have someone at the helm who is just incredible as well. In terms of moving forward, this is our first collaborative production with the Epstein. We've done several productions at the venue recently, all of which have gone down really well.
Helen: They have been predominantly done with our students.
Graham: But we want to join up with the theatre because it's a fabulous venue as you know, but it's about moving forward and co-producing credible work that is going to leave a legacy and leave a lasting impression, and I think that this show is a really good starting point. We're in it, and we're helping to produce it, so our heads are on the block! We like the challenge of it, and that's one of the key things about it; we're excited by the challenge of what we're taking on, so that's really cool.
What can the Epstein audience this June from The Last Five Years?
Helen: I think it will really appeal to musical theatre lovers, because at the end of the day the show is musical theatre. I also think that most musical theatre lovers would know about this show anyway, it's a very well-known show within the musical theatre industry. However, I feel that people who have perhaps never seen a musical before may also find this quite appealing because, as we talked about earlier, it's very different; it's not a big singing and dancing showbiz-type production.
Graham: Also, some people don't like that; some people don't like the showbiz elements to some shows. They prefer to see something that will make them think and will make them follow a story and empathise with the characters.
Helen: It's thought-provoking and it's emotive.
Graham: So in terms of whom this will appeal to, I think it covers a range of people.
Helen: We're making it sound really dark, but there's also some light, comedy elements to it as well, which I think anybody who has been in a relationship or is in a relationship will associate with, from both characters' perspectives.
Graham: We've all gone through some of those moments from within their relationship when they've made themselves look foolish or silly or whatever it may be, from the first time they've met to the things that they've said, and then there's the times when it's got pretty tough. The show really goes there with that side of things, too.
So, the show really connects with the audience?
Graham: Yeah, I think everybody can associate with it and potentially take sides with one of the characters.
Helen: It certainly is that way; you could associate yourself with either one of them.
Graham: When there's a break-up, you tend to think "Oh, it was his fault" or "It was her fault" and you end up taking sides. We could have a text vote at the end saying "Whose fault was it?" (Laughs) There could be a screen at the back saying "Vote now!"
Helen: Erm, maybe not! (Laughs) With a normal relationship, you don't always get to hear both sides of the story, whereas here you really do, and I think that's what is quite interesting about the show. Especially with friends or family, you don't want to hear the other person's side, whereas in this show you are literally hearing everything from both sides so that you can make your own judgement. We also have to mention Jason Robert Brown, the composer of the musical, his work is amazing, just phenomenal. It's beautifully written, very cleverly written, in order to draw out all of those emotive moments. Music lovers would definitely get a lot from this.
The Last Five Years will be performed at the Epstein Theatre from Thursday June 15 to Saturday June 17. To book your tickets, click here.