The Last Tycoon at the Arts Theatre
F Scott Fitzgerald’s tantalisingly unfinished novel, set in 1920s Hollywood, is the sort of production only a very confident theatre company would tackle. Ruby In the Dust appear to have this in too much abundance, as the challenge of bringing to life The Last Tycoon appears to be too great for their collective abilities. Joe Evans’ production takes place in a bijou section of the Arts Theatre, replete with ritzy décor – a good excuse to dust off those gowns from that last Gatsby party you attended. Unfortunately, this staging of Fitzgerald’s narrative is not believable and therefore not a resounding success, and the intimate space is unable to serve as a springboard into the excess and glamour of classical Hollywood.
The story revolves around the studio golden boy, Monroe Stahr (Simon Victor), and the intersection of his lonely, workaholic existence in the foundry of the dream machine and his rejuvenating encounter with a dead ringer for his deceased wife, in the form of the mysterious Kathleen Moore (EJ Martin). Stahr’s vaunted reputation, based on his taste and artistry, is waning in both the eyes of his boss, Pat Brady (Jon House), who feels his subordinate’s focus on “prestige pictures” will lose him money, and his team of writers who are being tempted to form a union to increase their power. One person to whom Stahr’s value is undiminished is the narrator, love-struck Cecelia Brady (Hero Douglas), whose position as the boss’s daughter puts her in the middle of the power struggle.
Fitzgerald’s exquisitely gilded and meditative prose offered profound insights into the co-existence of professional and personal desires of a powerful figure like Stahr (who was based on the real-life mogul Irving Thalberg), whilst also gracefully probing the lives of those who live in the afterglow of the larger-than-life stories of romance and spectacle of the silver screen. Under Linnie Reedman’s direction, however, the audience does not feel they have been transported into this world but instead to a rather cartoonish simulacrum of it. The struggle between Stahr’s artistic integrity with the studios being reduced to Brady coming off as a mob boss from a second-rate gangster film, and the supporting actors seemingly stuck in aspic due to their period garb, make it seem like the 1920s are as distant as the 1420s from human behaviour today. Furthermore, Hero Douglas, despite her musical talents and suitably elegant bearing as the studio “princess”, is not expressive enough as an actress to deliver her character’s soul-crushing heartbreak. The saving grace of the production is in the lovely chemistry between Stahr and Moore: Victor and Martin give mature and poignant performances in bringing to life their short-lived romantic idyll. This alone brings back watery-eyed reminiscences of the original story.
The Last Tycoon is at the Arts Theatre from 16th August until 10th September 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for The Last Tycoon here: