Continuing their 10-year anniversary celebrations, Ruby In The Dust have once again taken on F. Scott Fitzgerald – this time with a production of his final work, The Last Tycoon. As in his seminal work, The Great Gatsby, its central character is something of a tragic figure.
Monroe Stahr is a big-time Hollywood producer who is obsessed with his work, particularly since his wife died in an earthquake; a workaholic with failing health, spending all hours at his studios. Until one day, when he has a chance encounter with Kathleen Moore – a woman who reminds him of his wife. He pursues her, in an attempt to redress the balance in his life, but things don’t work out how he hoped.
The stage production (written by Simon Levy) is a combination of scenes from Stahr’s life and narration from Cecilia Brady – the daughter of fellow producer, Pat Brady, and long-term admirer of Stahr. In familiar Ruby In The Dust style, it is set up in the traverse, utilising all of the space Above the Arts has to offer, whether they’re sat at Stahr’s desk, the bar or somewhere in between.
There is ingenious use of video projections (edited by Jonathan Ajayi) on the back wall, to introduce Stahr’s wife as well as to allow them to include scenes where they’re looking over film from that day’s shoot. The lighting (Dom Warwick) & sound is spot on throughout; an early scene that simulates the deadly earthquake is particularly impressive.
Unlike the company’s Gatsby, this production is not a musical – rather a straight play with a bit of music included. Both pieces are beautiful choices, hauntingly performed. Hero Douglas (as Cecilia) plays the harp & sings My Hero from The Chocolate Soldier (an operetta by Oscar Strauss), and Claire-Monique Martin (as Stahr’s mother) sings Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen from Shulamis. Both are sung for Stahr; Cecilia in her undying devotion, his mother as a lullaby to soothe him in his childhood illness.
Of the supporting cast, Martin stands out for her musical performance, a well as an hilarious turn as Kathleen’s friend, Edna. Tristan Pegg a smarmy young upstart, Mort Fleishacker, has terrific comic timing – and Jon House makes for a good villain of the piece, as Pat Brady plots to get rid of Stahr.
EJ Martin shines as Stahr’s object of affection, Kathleen Moore. It is a subtle performance, entirely in keeping with her character’s secretive nature – letting her eyes do the talking as much as possible.
Simon Victor captures every inch of Stahr’s conflicted genius, making him absolutely the star of the show. Victor’s portrayal shows how committed Stahr is to his profession, countering the idea of profits before art – without letting us forget that he is going through great personal turmoil, with his wife’s untimely death & his lifelong battle with ill health.
This assertion that art should be there to give people hope, and that profits aren’t the be-all and end-all, is a timely one. As is the fact that Stahr is fighting to make his “Shakespeare picture”, in the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. A good reminder that artists need to be given licence in their endeavours.
My verdict? A classy production of another classic, but ultimately tragic, Fitzgerald tale – get there if you can.
The Last Tycoon runs at Above the Arts Theatre until 10 September 2016. Tickets are available online and from the box office.