The Great Gatsby is the type of show that must keep production managers awake at night. Given the sheer number of simultaneous events requiring attention, it’s surprising and admirable that the production flows in a new venue with no noticeable mishaps. All the crew deserve credit for this achievement.
Upon entering the venue I quickly became aware just how severely underdressed I was in comparison to not only the actors but other spectators sporting a range of tuxedos, sparkling dresses and headbands. Heledd Rees’ costume design deserves a mention for Gatsby’s famous pink suit alone but the entire ensemble looks fantastic. My main lesson from the evening was that jeans and Adidas trainers were certainly not a staple look of the roaring 20s.
The effort to which the entire venue has gone in order to channel the jazz era adds immeasurably to the effect of the production as a whole. After managing to escape the clutches of cast members pulling me toward the dance floor, it was enjoyable to find an area of elevation and simply observe as the drama of Gatsby’s party began to unfold. Watching subplots enacted between Tom Buchanan (Prince Plockey), Myrtle (Hannah Edwards), Daisy (Lucinda Turner) and Gatsby (Oliver Towse), all amid a throng of theatergoers learning the Charleston, is a sight to behold.
Immersive theatre can have a tendency to feel awkward and overbearing when the ‘immersive’ aspect derives from clumsy interaction between cast and audience, but this adaptation is very different. Sporadically throughout the evening, crowds are shepherded off into adjacent rooms to converse more intimately with individual characters. Finding myself in the library with Gatsby, Towse did a more than admirable job of fielding spontaneous remarks with a great deal of humour and charm.
This is not a production for purists of the text. It is not harsh to state that the adaptation butchers the tone and subtlety of F Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, with the symbolic assassination of Nick Carraway perhaps the most problematic of all the interpretations of the story’s characters. Generally considered one of the more contemplative and perceptive figures in the modern American canon, to see Nick reduced to a slapstick caricature would be highly upsetting if it didn’t simply become laughable by the close.
There is a school of thought that suggests classics works should be free to be interpreted in any way. That is fair enough, but in the same breath spare a thought for Fitzgerald. He would be turning in his grave wondering how in the case of Nick particularly – a character written with such elegance and poise – could be reduced to a manifestation of canned laughter. It rips the soul out of the story.
Enjoying this production ultimately comes down to a question of intent. If you are looking for an evening to reflect on the majesty of arguably the greatest American novel ever written, stay at home and read the book. If you are looking for a fun, albeit slightly lengthy, evening of entertainment, brush up on the Charleston and head for the dance floor.