Gatsby at Leicester Square Theatre
“And I like big parties.” Whether you’ve read F Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great American” novel, or seen Baz Luhrmann’s characteristically trippy, decadent spin on it, there’s one thing audiences will know about The Great Gatsby: its characters like a good party. And Linnie Reedman’s version, first and foremost, is one such party.
Set in a fabled 1922 New York, Fitzgerald’s narrator, Nick Carraway, returns from World War One to find himself caught up in the decadence and exuberance of the prohibition-era “Roaring Twenties”. In search of the American Dream, Carraway leaves aside his former aspirations of being a writer to make it as a broker in the booming city, finding a small cottage on the nouveau riche East Egg on Long Island, across the bay from “old money” West Egg where his cousin Daisy lives. He is soon drawn into the illustrious lifestyle of the mysterious super-rich Jay Gatsby who lives in a mansion next door, discovering that the man, and his wild parties, are not all they seem.
The Leicester Square Theatre’s downstairs lounge is transformed into the Luna Park Speakeasy for Ruby in the Dust’s production, the small audience packed around cocktail bar tables within touching distance of the cast. Although the immersive setup initially takes some getting used to – the convention of separation between stage and spectator is shattered – it functions to make the viewer simultaneously part of and outside of the debauchery, much as Nick Carraway himself remarks: “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life”.
The actors are perfectly cast: Ellen Francis capturing the intimidating, unattainable allure of the tall, slender Jordan Baker, Daisy’s drinking buddy; Bradley Clarkson’s gravely voice perfectly suiting the gravitas and arrogance of Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s super rich ex-polo player husband; and Ludovic Hughes revealing the layered character of hopelessly “hopeful” Gatsby. Morgan Val Baker is a socially awkward Carraway, Lowrie Amies and Paul Tonkin bring humour and Lauren Chinery is a loose-cannoned Myrtle Wilson. But the real standout is Cressida Bonas, looking and sounding every inch the variously beguiling and unlikeable Daisy, who in the end shuffles back into the safety of her wealth to avoid accountability for her actions.
The music and choreography bring a fluidity to the characters interactions and scene changes, putting the audience right at the centre of the party. Songs written by Joe Evans, with instrumental and Charleston-esque accompaniments by members of the cast, enliven the script and demonstrate the prowess of the multi-talented crew. And a permanently cocktail-laden set and slinky low slung 1920s dresses ooze the booze-infused glamour that dominated the social scene of the Jazz Age.
Conveying both the superficial hedonism of the period, and the darker undercurrents of class divides, alcoholism and corruption that trouble Fitzgerald’s characters, Linnie Reedman’s Gatsby is a brilliantly entertaining and illuminating interpretation of a challenging text.
Photo: Nobby Clark
Gatsby is at Leicester Square Theatre from 10th December 2016 until 15th January 2017, for further information or to book visit here.