The Great Gatsby
Immersive | LDN
Reviewed – 22nd October 2020
“Post lockdown, this show still manages to feel like a party, despite some of our freedoms taken away from us”
A year ago, we were collectively gearing up for what we hoped would be the “Roaring Twenties”; a replica of that momentous decade in history, particularly American history, that was chronicled so beautifully by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Little did we know what a colossal car crash we were heading for just around the corner. The characters portrayed in Fitzgerald’s novel tend to run away from their difficulties. “They were careless people… they smashed up things, and let other people clean up the mess they had made”. Jay Gatsby himself, however, was exempt from this, and his indomitable spirit lives on in “The Great Gatsby”, the immersive theatre show (London’s longest running) staged like a party at Gatsby’s mansion.
“So we beat on, boats against the current…” Those words resonate more powerfully than ever. The flow of events seems to change daily; what may be possible today might not be tomorrow, so the zeitgeist of the American dream follows us, reminding us to seize the day while we can. Post lockdown, this show still manages to feel like a party, despite some of our freedoms taken away from us. But hey, prohibition never stopped people having a good time. We’re not quite there ourselves, but in a neat echo Nick Carraway (James Lawrence) hushes the audience during the second curtain-call, as the clock strikes ten, to announce that “normally we’d be getting out of costume now and join you in the bar. But that’s illegal!”
But let’s start from the top. The first thing you notice is the detail. The venue, once you’ve passed through the temperature checks and security, sweeps you back into the Jazz Age. We are welcomed like old friends; like regulars in a Speakeasy, complicit in some sort of illicit pleasure. It is difficult not to reflect occasionally, however, what a logistical precipice the producers, creatives and cast had to scale to get the show back up and running; but these thoughts are soon dislodged by the sheer energy of the performance. Gatsby’s glamour is delivered with a punch that leaves you reeling to the bar for another cocktail at interval.
There is a common misconception about “The Great Gatsby”, so much so that the word ‘Gatsby’ itself has become synonymous with glitz. Alexander Wright’s direction obviously embraces this but also manages to cast a light onto the personalities that Fitzgerald hints at. As the key scenes are played out before us, we can witness the intimate nuances up close. Not quite as up close as we’d sometimes like. It is still immersive theatre but the interaction, like the audience, is partially veiled. It is also quite hit and miss whether you will be invited into one of the other side rooms. Understandably the promenade aspect of the show has been significantly cut back – one cannot wander around freely as before. The upside is that you don’t miss out on any of the main action.
Nick Carraway, the novels’ narrator, shares this burden with the rest of the ensemble. In fact, we see the story unfold through each character’s eyes, often overlapping at times letting us choose who to follow. And it’s a hard choice as each cast member seduces you with a riveting performance. James Lawrence beautifully takes us on his journey from mild amusement and non-judgemental confusion through to his eventual revulsion. Ivy Corbin is gorgeously watchable as she heaps humour onto the self-centred cynicism of Jordan Baker. Daisy Buchanan is given short shrift by Fitzgerald, but Lucinda Turner dresses her innate hollowness with layers of mystery and vulnerability that give her the allure for you to believe in Gatsby’s dream, while Dean Graham’s unshakeable Tom Buchanan does his best to kill that dream. Meanwhile, on the wrong side of the tracks, other dreams die. Tom’s mistress, Myrtle Wilson, is given a brilliant mix of strength and tragic energy by MJ Lee, while her long-suffering husband, George, is brought out of the shadows and given vibrancy and musicality by Lucas Jones.
The revelation is Craig Hamilton’s Gatsby. The tragic hero who pays the price for living too long with a single dream. Hamilton hits the nail on the head, playing him not as the dreamy matinee idol, but as an awkward outsider, socially clumsy, almost on the spectrum, but hugely likeable and charismatic.
What the entire cast do share is their ability to bring out the comedy too. And with Holly Beasley Garrigan’s choreography and Phil Grainger’s sound design and choice of music that give an electric modernity, the evening is a sumptuous tribute to Fitzgerald. In the ‘Roaring Twenties’ the people pursuing the American Dream within his novel were desperate to have fun. Similarly, in our current times, we are just as hungry for it. Gatsby’s mansion in Mayfair is just the place to find it.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Mark Senior
The Great Gatsby
Immersive | LDN until 31st January 2021
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