In The Beginning….

How do you like your stories told? Presumably your answer is “well.” Whether it’s theatre, film or a novel you’re settling back to enjoy I guess your expectations are that, at the very least, the plotline will be engaging and the characters worth investing enough emotional energy in to make their successes or failures enjoyable.

Apparently that’s not the case for everybody. Around Christmas time I was talking to a friend when our long and meandering conversation happened upon just this subject.

“Stories should have a beginning, a middle and an end – in that order!” was approximately what he said.

“Like Alice in Wonderland,” I replied. “Begin at the beginning and go on until you reach the end, then stop.”

“Don’t know, never read it. But yes, like what she said.” My friend agreed. At this point I contemplated telling him that it wasn’t Alice who said this, it was the Red King, but decided that it wouldn’t add much to what looked like becoming a decent argument. I finished my beer and then asked, “So you don’t like Tarantino movies then?” (In the full knowledge that he loves them).

“I love them.” he said.

“But they don’t generally start at the beginning and go on until they reach the end and then stop.”

My friend gave me the sort of look which is generally followed by a statement to the effect of “I haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about.” But then said “Oh yeah, they don’t do they? You know I’d never realised that before. My round?” and shuffled off to the bar for another couple of Broadsides leaving me simultaneously both disappointed that a full blown debate about narrative structure hadn’t occurred and perplexed at his lack of observation over the course of several hours of cinema time – and he’s an air traffic controller!

But he’s not the only one it seems. Since that conversation I’ve casually asked several friends, acquaintances and passers-by a similar question (the invitations to dinner and for drinks are dwindling) and received a startling high number of similar responses. There are a lot of people it seems, who like their stories to commence at a singular moment, proceed in precise chronological order and arrive at a pre-determined singularity which lies ahead, and in direct relation to, the starting point – until that is you point out all the stories they love which don’t do this.

I’d had no idea this was the case. I’ve always loved stories in which time is a knot rather an arrow-straight line and find that chopping up a story and redistributing it in a new order often brings new perspective to what might otherwise be tired storylines.

I guess romance is never likely to be considered a ‘tired storyline’ but nevertheless the path of passion-marriage-indifference-divorce is well worn.

For that reason The Last Five Years caught my eye. It explores the five-year relationship between Jamie, a writer who is about to have his first novel published, and Cathy, whose acting career is not having the same success. The story is told in two directions. Cathy’s story is told in reverse, beginning with the end of the marriage and moving toward the moment when she first fell in love with Jamie. His story follows a more conventional route, starting just after the couple have first met and moving resolutely toward the heart-breaking finale. Not only that but the characters are only on stage together once, at the moment their timelines cross when they wed.

In addition to this innovative story-telling The Last Five Years is a musical and is being revived by the New Wolsey from Feb 25th until March 11th. With the Wolsey now firmly established as one the country’s leading venues for productions featuring actor/musicians The Last Five Years should be a sure-fire hit. Musically the tunes draw on a breadth of different genres, including Klezmer! (take note Mr Lloyd-Webber) and if you’d like to familiarise yourself with some of them before deciding to book a ticket then you can on Spotify, the link for which is on the New Wolsey website

If this sounds somewhat familiar then that may be because you’re one of the few people who’s caught the film which was adapted from the stage show. Released last year in the USA to mixed reviews it seems that the transition from stage to celluloid wasn’t the most successful and the film did not get a release in the UK. Nevertheless the stage show has a good reputation and in the hands of Peter Rowe at the New Wolsey should be a springtime smash.

Tickets range from £10 to £25, with discounts for the disabled and those aged under 26. There are also discounts for those who require audio description and every performance of during this run will be audio described.

Tickets are available via the website or from one of the brilliant crew who man the Wolsey box office on 01473 295 900.