When, in 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about the rich and famous of Long Island during the ‘Roaring Twenties’, he probably didn’t realise he had written a book considered by many to be a literary classic and a contender for the title ‘Great American Novel’. The book was, of course “The Great Gatsby” and is currently being performed by the Blackeyed Theatre Company at the Greenwich Theatre.
The story is set in the summer of 1922 when bond salesman Nick Carraway (Adam Jowett) takes a house in the Village of West Egg. Nick has a distant relative in the area – actually in ‘East Egg’ where the rich with ‘old’ money live – the vivacious and effervescent Louisville debutante Daisy Buchanan (Celia Cruwys-Finnigan) who is married to muscular, arrogant millionaire Tom (Tristan Pate) an old college ‘friend’ of Nick. Also staying with the Buchanans is professional golfer Jordan Baker (Celeste De Veazey), who despite her very aloof attitude appears to take a bit of a shine to Nick, a situation he is more than happy with. There is much talk in the house of the owner of the mansion next to Nick’s modest place, one Jay Gatsby (Max Roll). Little is known of Gatsby except that he is very wealthy though on the ‘new’ money side of the village, and is the subject of much rumour and gossip – some say he is a relative of the Keiser, others that he was a student at Oxford. What is known for certain is that he is renowned throughout Long island for throwing the most outrageous parties where the rich, famous and infamous drop in unannounced and teach the Roman God Bacchus a lesson in how to enjoy life. Nick strikes up an acquaintanceship with Gatsby and gets invited over to the house for one of the parties. As we delve deeper into the lives of the well-heeled, we find out more about their secrets such as Tom’s mistress Myrtle Wilson (Stacey Ghent) married garage owner George (Tom Neill) and the reason why Gatsby has bought this particular house. As the story deepens and the summer weather becomes more oppressive, tempers and passions rise and the truth raises its ugly head leading to confrontation, acceptance and death.
Not having read the original book, nor having seen any of the films, I had no preconceived ideas about The Great Gatsby when I entered the theatre. The set – by Designer Victoria Spearing – looked pretty stunning on the Greenwich’s stage. Set out on different levels round three sides of the stage, it was very white with more than a hint of art deco about it, and was pretty stunning to behold. Director Eliot Giuralarocca made good use of it in moving the action around various locations. The cast too looked absolutely amazing in their very true to the period costumes designed by Jenny Little. Celeste De Veazey looked as if she had been plucked from 1922 and set down on the stage, so perfect was her look in every respect. If the setting and costumes were superb, the cast were a wonder. From the wonderful opening number – setting the scene and introducing the main characters – the cast were kept busy acting, singing, dancing and playing a range of instruments to provide the musical accompaniment to the show. In fact, they all performed beautifully in delivering the story, with particular credit to Adam Jowett who, as Nick narrating the story, is on stage pretty much the entire time keeping the narrative flow moving.
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Unfortunately, for me, the story wasn’t that great. Not having read the original, I can’t comment too much on Stephen Sharkey’s adaptation, and I feel like a bit of a heretic in criticising Fitzgerald’s work, but I found the story to be very slow and pedestrian in places – although the second act did get very lively. To give an example, there was a lot of build up about the man Gatsby, and I was anticipating some colossus bestriding the Long Island social scene but, in fact, he is a pretty regular guy and, beyond his forbidden love, I don’t think we ever really discovered that much about why he lived the way he did. Similarly, I could not imagine Nick and Tom being friends or even acquaintances at Harvard, their personalities were so dissimilar. I have to say too that, whilst the cast performed them well on the whole, I’m not really sure why some of the songs were included in the performance.
To sum up my feelings on The Great Gatsby I thought it was visually really well done and the multi-talented cast delivered a very strong performance but the story itself really didn’t grip me or my companion that much, leading to a slightly frustrating evening.
Review by Terry Eastham
Immersing you in the decadence of America’s ‘Jazz Age’, The Great Gatsby is brought to life in this sizzling new stage adaptation from nationally acclaimed Blackeyed Theatre. Recreating the sights, sounds and feel of America’s ‘Roaring Twenties’ as seen through the eyes of Nick Carraway, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece is a brilliant evocation of a society obsessed with wealth and status.
Adapted by Stephen Sharkey, whose work includes The May Queen (Liverpool Everyman) and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Liverpool Playhouse/Nottingham Playhouse), this exciting new production features fabulous live music alongside the timeless language of Fitzgerald’s Great American Novel to create a truly fresh and inspiring theatrical experience.
The Great Gatsby 2015/2016 UK Tour
Presented by: Blackeyed Theatre
From the novel by F Scott Fitzgerald
Adapted by: Stephen Sharkey
Performance times: Tues-Sat 7.30pm, Wed Mat 1.30pm, Sat Mat 2.30pm
@Blackeyedtheatr, @El_rocca, @steshark, #TheGreatGatsby
Director: Eliot Giuralarocca
Musical Director: Ellie Verkerk
Movement Director: Bronya Deutsch
Lighting Designer: Charlotte McClelland
Costume Designer: Jenny Little
Nick Carraway – Adam Jowett
Tom Buchanan – Tristan Pate
Daisy Buchanan – Celia Cruwys-Finnigan
Jordan Baker – Celeste De Veazey
George Wilson – Tom Neill
Myrtle Wilson – Stacey Ghent
Jay Gatsby – Max Roll
London SE10 8ES