Gatsby is a musical adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal work The Great Gatsby, by developing theatre company Ruby In The Dust. One of my favourite books, put on stage by a group whose work I enjoyed over the summer (A Midsummer Night’s Dream In New Orleans) – I had a real sense of anticipation. I’ve always thought that The Great Gatsby is perfect musical material: you have licence to go completely over the top, in true Gatsby fashion, and create something jazzy & wonderful on a spectacular scale.
So you can understand my disappointment at the two and a half hours that unfolded. I was aware that the show was being produced on a tight budget, so obviously I wasn’t expecting scale in terms of a big cast & expensive set, but Blackeyed Theatre proved to me a few weeks ago that you can capture the essence of the novel with a small cast & minimalist set. Gatsby, for me, fails categorically to express Fitzgerald’s original sentiments; instead it remains in the realms of the lacklustre.
Daisy (Matilda Sturridge) is portrayed in the main as a bit of a moper, and repeats the same tune several times. The script makes a big thing of “who is this ‘Gatsby’?”, but he is revealed in such an underwhelming fashion that you wonder why everyone’s so enthralled by him – in addition, David Ricardo shows no charisma in the role & very little chemistry with the supposed love of his life. Their storyline feels forced & unbelievable.
With the odd exception, the cast’s accents are not great, generally veering towards generic American, rather than anything specific like New York or Midwest.
The show’s lighting doesn’t seem particularly well designed, at one point completely blinding the audience with “the green light” – and then not blacking out enough following Myrtle’s (Kim Medcalf) fatal car accident, meaning you can see the actress running offstage…
My biggest gripe concerns Nick Carraway. In the novel (and, indeed, most adaptations of any kind) Nick is the narrator; the story is one that he is writing himself, and therefore all characterisation is seen through his eyes. Gatsby reduces the character to a bit of a gooseberry. This makes the story disjointed, and is also a bit of a shame as some of the few moments I enjoyed were down to Sebastian Blunt’s light comic touch. He truly is underused and Nick is seemingly undervalued in the story.
I do have some positives, however. The band (Benoit Viellefon Orchestra) is good and made up of obviously skilled musicians, plus the cast really does have a talent for singing – they can’t be faulted there. Simon Bailey captures Tom’s arrogance well, and Ellie Nunn plays Jordan Baker with a cheeky confidence that draws you to her in every one of her scenes. There were also some fantastic costumes, most notably Lucille & Catherine’s dresses.
I remain confident that the original material can make a brilliant musical, but perhaps it needs to be left to the more commercial types. It requires scale, spirit & energy – something which this production is sadly lacking.
My verdict? A low-energy production that seems to be lacking Gatsby’s charm, old sport.
Gatsby runs at the Arts Theatre (West End) Mondays until 16 November 2015. Tickets are available at the box office & online.