The modern world has always seen a fascination surrounding F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby and the licentious partying, wealth, obsessive passion, and excess he painted have seeped into the 21st Century cultural landscape as a beacon of intellectual decadence. This hedonistic view of the Jazz Age and racket – no matter how historically inaccurate at times – lends itself well to an immersive experience, and pushed Alexander Wright’s production based on the original material to achieve the title of longest running immersive theatre show. After debuting in London at The Vaults in 2017, it moved around a bit before settling into a bespoke venue in Mayfair last month.
The concept is elemental, Jay Gatsby is throwing one of his gloriously infamous parties and you too have received an invitation. The space is quite impressive and Casey Jay Andrews dresses the various rooms lavishly: from the titular character’s cosy study to the grand ballroom that features a water installation, every nook and cranny holds opulent levels of charm. This new refurbishment of the project vaguely recalls Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film for sure, but the splendid nostalgia that permeated it is weirdly absent from it.
Wright adapts the text pulling a couple of the beloved (and slightly overused) quotes straight from it and ushers the audience around so they can spend time with each character. Dissimilarly from the usual immersive piece where everyone gets to do everything at a certain point, here the gathering is naturally divided and escorted to different places according to the indivuals’ casual vicinity to them. This unique adventure is exciting as much as it is unnerving for the spectators, who are left with too many what-ifs in terms of the personal details in the story.
Oliver Towse makes for a charming Gatsby. The confidence of a salesman and the power of money waver when Lucinda Turner’s Daisy in concerned, but it’s James Lawrence as Nick Carraway who steals the scene. Towse might be smooth and sophisticated, but Lawrence brings to the plate all the excitement and buzz of the era. Subtle and charismatic, he draws the crowd in with his recollection of the events and moves the narration with ease and commitment.
Tendai Humphrey Sitima is George Wilson, who croons softly here and there before pushing Gatsby to meet his end. As his wife Myrtle, Hannah Edwards is unobtrusive before her plotline becomes relevant, while Jessica Hern plays an outrageous (and very shouty) Jordan Baker. Prince Plockey’s trajectory as Tom Buchanan is rather underwhelming, but makes sense when the focus of the piece is so centred on the main couple’s love story.
The venture is remarkable when it comes to fluidity too, with the communal scenes between the actors taking up the right amount of time compared to the active interactions with the public. The show is a big party at heart, so sound designer Phil Grainger has the hefty task of enlivening the evening as well as conditioning the audience during the more toned-down moments where the performers take hold of the tale. He succeeds in altering the mood imperceptibly with the score one minute and crowding the dancefloor with an impromptu Charleston lesson right after.
The attraction won’t satisfy the craving for insights into the darker themes of Fitzgerald’s novel, but will transport the participants to an all-enveloping night in the Roaring Twenties in a sort of Midnight in Paris style. The audience will schmooze with Nick and Daisy, they’ll hear what they have to say about their host, and will ultimately join a swanky bash.
The Great Gatsby runs at Immersive LDN in Mayfair until 31 May 2020.
Photo credit: Helen Maybanks