‘The Great Gatsby’ is back as an art-deco ‘sensory overload’
Nearly a year into this decade and it’s fair to say life isn’t exactly as "roaring" as we may have wanted. So, to get gladrags on, clink glasses and be a guest of Jay Gatsby’s latest party was a much-needed life tonic. But for all the loaded splendour and sophistication a title like The Great Gatsby carries in popular culture, its immersive theatre adaptation struggles to hit the aspirational high that it’s striving to achieve.
Stepping into the marvellous party, it’s apparent that even Jay Gatsby can’t keep coronavirus at bay. Hand sanitiser stations and face masks were the order of the day, and Holly Beasley Garrigan’s new art-deco scenic design captured the essence of the era. Sadly the sparse set, including the geometric mirrors by the bar and the chandelier felt authentic, but didn't fill the space. Lighting and costume design must also be commended; scene changes became somewhat of a sensory overload thanks to frequent lighting and costume changes, keeping the story pacing along to a dramatic conclusion.
Speaking of story, The Great Gatsby purists may not be best pleased with the version of events told in Alexander Wright’s adaptation. James Lawrence (as Nick Carraway) delivers famous lines that anyone who’s read the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic would be able to recite in their sleep. But, some parts of the story just felt slow and stretched out, especially the "game" section led by Lucinda Turner (as Daisy Buchanan) and Ivy Corbin (as Jordan Baker), where a few too many questions were asked to little audience reception. If there’s one thing you don’t want from a show set in Prohibition-era America to feel, it’s dry. And when you’re in the main room waiting for audience members to come back from their side scenes, the whole show becomes stilted.
Audience members were often invited by characters to join them in another room, something that unfortunately wasn’t the case for this critic. Hearing screaming, moaning, games being played and phone calls happening could very well be the director's intent and purpose. While others are taken off, you’re left in the dark, which adds to the overall mysterious quality of the show. Yet, all it did was take from the full experience that this show could offer, leaving me with a drink in hand, watching half a show.
Being in the main room, I did get to hear all of Lucas Jones (as George Wilson) singing, easily a highlight of the show. His musical ability shines through, especially in a stunning solo towards the end of the production that could rival George Gershwin today. Ivy Corbin was a stand-out performer as well, her characterisation as the brash Jordan Baker who constantly interacted the crowd lifted every scene. Characters did speak to audience members throughout — I even got chatting to Gatsby himself! But, there’s a niggling sense that whatever you didn’t hear was important; audiences rested on being in and out of the show at the same time.
The performance I saw came with an added bonus of a fire alarm, an unexpected event which actually took my estimations of the show up. Seeing all actors come together to improvise a scene without breaking character and keeping the audience calm must be applauded.
A night on the tiles with some of literature’s most famous characters was "Great." Seeing a polished piece of theatre in the "Covid age" is a wonder in itself. But does the show live up to the "Gatsby" name though? I’m not so sure, old sport. Everything you’d expect from a show set in the 1920s is there: the Charleston, the bob hair cuts, the constant talk about motor cars. But it’s missing the exorbitant lavishness that you get from the original.
The Great Gatsby is at Immersive LDN.
The Great Gatsby tickets are available now.
Photo credit: Craig Hamilton and Lucinda Turner (Photo by Mark Senior)