“’Whenever you feel like
criticising anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this
world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had’.”
Fans of The Great Gatsby are
being spoilt for choice this year as the passing of the rights of F Scott
Fitzgerald’s novel into the public domain has led to a number of adaptations
hitting the London stage. First up is an immersive adaptation at Wilton’s Music Hall (the 8 hour extravaganza Gatz arrives in June and a musical version plays
at the King’s Head in August) and it’s proved to be a canny move as the entire
run has sold out before it even opened, apparent testimony to the popularity of
the book but I hope there is a swell of affection for Wilton’s at play too as they
continue to raise funds for their vitally important reconstruction works.
The palpably atmospheric history
of the building lends itself to theatrical exploitation and Peter Joucla’s production
makes the most of this from the off. Characters mill about the bar and foyer
area and play out little scenes which locate us firmly in prohibition-era New
York and escort us into the main theatre which has been bedecked simply but
effectively in a sweeping, vaguely Art-Deco inspired design by Lucy Wilkinson.
A barbershop chorus starts singing jazz tunes of the era and we’re off in this
tale of the enigmatic Gatsby, whose hard-worn pursuit of the woman he loves is slowly
poisoned by the decadence of the society around them both. NB This was the
final preview performance. Oh, and I haven’t read the book. Yet.
I found the first half to be
quite charmingly enjoyable, if a little slow to really engage with my attention.
The post-WWI but pre-Great Depression era is evoked well in the louche
attitudes of the idle rich who hang out at Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s Long Island
mansion – Vicki Campbell’s Jordan a stand-out here – and Nick Chambers’ new
arrival, an old school-friend also called Nick, provides a neat outsider’s
perspective, albeit as he is slowly seduced into this social whirl. When it
emerges that the manor overshadowing Nick’s modest abode is owned by the mysteriously
wealthy Gatsby, who holds party after party in the hope of enticing Daisy over
to resume their abortive youthful passion, the scene is set for love and money
to do battle once again.
But truth be told, I never
really felt the intensity of feeling that the story, as it came across to me,
demanded. I wanted more persuasive charisma from Michael Malarkey’s Gatsby,
more bubbling passion from Kirsty Besterman’s Daisy, only Christopher Brandon’s
Tom really expounded the emotional charge I craved. The musical interludes,
which recur with regularity throughout with their accomplished harmonies, set
the tone at a slightly more whimsical level which, with the occasional cameos
from stock 1920s caricatures and a school-party heavy audience with lots of
hints of fancy dress, called to mind more of a Bugsy Malone atmosphere.
This would be fine but for the
second half which is eminently unsuited to the form. As events take an
increasingly tragic turn, Joucla mis-steps horribly with a pair of death scenes
that sit most awkwardly in the production. The first introduces an erroneous note
of stylised theatricality, paired with a musical outburst that just feels
wrong; the second forgoes both of these and fails limply with barely a splash. Thus
much of the good work is undone, barely a note of genuine tragedy felt and the consequent
ending fudged somewhat. It’s an inauspicious ending which casts an unfair light
on most of what has gone before which is appropriately atmospheric, interestingly drawn
and gently engaging.
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Playtext cost: £3
Booking until 19th May
Labels: Christopher Brandon, Connor Byrne, Dominic Parker, Jeffrey Mayhew, John Garfield Roberts, Julian Stolzenberg, Kirsty Besterman, Madeleine Bowyer, Michael Malarkey, Nick Chambers, Vicki Campbell