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Gatsby the Musical at Southwark Playhouse | Review

Give it a year or two, and this production might be just the tonic – set (largely) in 1922, its characters are partying in the aftermath of the First World War, and, more pertinently for our own times, the 1918 influenza pandemic. Jay Gatsby (Ross William Wild) is hosting some very lavish events on his estate, apparently attended by thousands of people. I say ‘apparently’ as in order to achieve the appearance of a huge gala in the smaller of two performance spaces at the Southwark Playhouse, CGI is involved – collective group imagination, on the part of the audience. Interestingly, this production proves seemingly bottomless budgets aren’t required to create something worth watching.

Juan Lobo (George Wilson)
Juan Lobo (George Wilson).

The set remains largely static, embellished with props that distinguish, say, a gas station (as petrol stations are called in the States) and Gatsby’s mansion. The sound is not quite perfectly balanced: wonderful as an on-stage band of six are, the quick-fire lyrics aren’t always easy to decipher, which makes it challenging to follow the details of what’s going on when the songs do much to propel the story forward in themselves, rather than merely reinforcing whatever the spoken dialogue had already set out.

Jaunty tunes and brisk dance moves create a suitably joyous atmosphere, at least in the first half, but this is not the sort of musical that one can sit back and have it wash over you. Both Daisy Buchanan (Jodie Steele) and Myrtle Wilson (Julie Yammanee) are somewhat more substantial characters than in the Fitzgerald novel. Through contemporary lenses, their treatment at the hands of their respective husbands, Tom (Bradley Clarkson) and George (Juan Lobo) is deplorable. That said, the very worst of their conduct retains its shock factor even taking historical and social context into account, and the good times of the first half were so euphoric it comes as no surprise that the hyper-positive mood could not be sustained to the end.

Gatsby, or at least this version of him, is a character that I found myself comparing with the title character in Julius Caesar: there’s a lot going on around him, and he commands a considerable amount of control, but the audience sees more of other characters than they do of him. One need not have read the book on which this show is based to figure the plot out, even if this production can’t quite escape being another musical that places an emphasis on a love triangle.

There’s a natural ending to the musical numbers, a departure from the ‘musical theatre stop’. It’s almost a pity the title character didn’t have more to do – Wild’s singing voice, when finally let loose, was utterly delightful. Steele’s Daisy, meanwhile, bordered on melodrama but never (thankfully) crossed the line. Luke Bayer’s Nick Carraway is quite literally the boy next door, a keen observer who is also happy to lend support wherever he can. As truths start to unravel, it becomes somewhat difficult to feel much sympathy for, well, anyone on stage. This quirky and unusual interpretation of a classic story succeeds thanks to a stellar and talented cast.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

“When the carnival is over, the Carnival King must die.”
It is late December 1929. Winter. Does the end of the Jazz Age and prohibition signify the end for celebrated New York Speakeasy ‘Luna Park’? Will they have to close for Christmas?

One cold, snowy day, Daisy Buchanan returns to New York and wanders into Luna Park looking for Jay Gatsby. She needs to speak to him. Instead, she meets notorious gangster, Woolfe. He wants to know: who is the woman that Gatsby gave everything up for? What is her agenda? What secrets is she hiding? Can he make her confess?

An original, musical re-telling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby that focuses on the character of Daisy Buchanan, with references to the woman who inspired her: Zelda Fitzgerald.

Daisy has been isolated for seven years and needs to remember the events of 1922 in order to move on. Guided by Woolfe, and her cousin Nick Carraway, with the influence of the amusement park that Gatsby so loved, she has to reach a painful conclusion.

But there is always the green light. The green light of hope.

Creative Team
Director Linnie Reedman
Arranged and Orchestrated by Henry Brennan
Musical Director Victoria Calver
Musical Supervisor Greg Arrowsmith
Choreographer Chris Whittaker
Associate Choreographer Marcus J Foreman
Lighting Designer Dominic Warwick
Designer Isabella Van Braeckel
Costume Designer Belle Mundi
Company Stage Manager Ella Schmid
Sound Consultant Lugh Horner
Sound Operator Anja Urban
Production Photographer Lidia Crisafulli

Cast
Luke Bayer
Bradley Clarkson
Robert Grose
Juan Lobo
Freddie Love
Oliver Mawdsley
Tristan Pegg
Jodie Steele
Ash Weir
Ross William Wild
Julie Yammanee

Band
Piano/MD Victoria Calver
Double Bass Mark Fincham
Drums William Riby
Saxophone Chris Wilkes
Clarinet Layla Allen
Violin Morven Graham

Ruby in the Dust Theatre presents
Gatsby
A musical by
Linnie Reedman & Joe Evans
inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby’
8 DEC 2021 – 8 JAN 2022
https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

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