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Review of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon

The Last TycoonThere are, of course, still film ‘tycoons’ today, with substantial income streams and extravagant lifestyles, but even setting that aside, it wasn’t absolutely clear who the ‘last tycoon’ was in The Last Tycoon. At the centre of the show’s attention is Monroe Stahr (Simon Victor), Stahr by name and star by nature, but by the end of the play, it is Pat Brady (Jon House) who assumes full control of the movie studio. The impression is given that motion picture production would simply continue, except now it would be without Stahr. To borrow a theatre maxim, the show must go on.

Reality is essentially portrayed through the lens of Hollywood, and – rather like the world of F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, it is a sort of reality far removed from what could reasonably considered daily living for the majority of people. But at least the staff at the movie studio in this stage adaptation of Fitzgerald’s last (and unfinished) novel work for a living, and with the world suffering from the effects of the Great Depression, austerity had replaced opulence.

This production has gone to some considerable effort to create a distinct 1930s atmosphere, with costumes and set quite appropriate for a time in which everyone is suffering, insofar that standards of living have become difficult if not impossible to maintain, because the economy has gone to the dogs. It does not, therefore, seem to matter very much if the theatre space is not nearly as transformed, set-wise, into an extravagant Hollywood studio as it might have been. The muted setting is fitting enough in an era of belt-tightening.

Some lovely actor-musician work from Hero Douglas as Cecilia Brady showcases strong vocals, and if there is a deficiency in character portrayal it may well be down to the character acting as both detached narrator and a teen with a crush on Stahr. The former came through more strongly than the latter, such that the response to events that transpire in the final moments of the play is slightly too restrained to be fully convincing. At least the audience is spared melodrama, which frankly would have been worse.

The play takes its time to make its salient points about artistry and creativity being prized as well as commercial success. Late on in the proceedings, of particular interest is a scene with Dr Baer (James Lloyd) and Monroe Stahr, in which the doctor’s advice is summarily ignored and even derided, a demonstration of fickleness if ever there was one, not only of Stahr but, more widely, of practically anyone who is used to getting their own way. There is little else to relate to in this borderline other-worldliness in which the relentless pursuit of the American Dream is rendered to have its downsides and negative consequences. The distancing effect the show creates is stark, and, I’m sorry to report, can lead to momentary disengagement.

Still, it is worth mentioning the notable chemistry between Stahr and Kathleen Moore (played by EJ Martin), and the swift and smooth scene changes that ensure the show’s flow is not disrupted. An interesting and thoughtful couple of hours – and an agreeable demonstration of a production whose characters are perfectly capable of expressing thoughts, opinions and emotions without boringly excessive coarse language, if there was any at all (hurrah!). This is a determined attempt at bringing to life an incomplete novel, and though the ending is rather different from that envisaged according to F Scott Fitzgerald’s notes, it’s credible enough. A fine and charming piece of theatre.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

F.Scott Fitzgerald’s THE LAST TYCOON. Adapted for the stage by Simon Levy. 1930s – the Golden Age of Hollywood. The tragedy of a man obsessed… With music from the period and a mixture of period and original film footage, this tale evokes the nostalgia of a lost age and lost dreams. A journey into the literal and metaphorical heart of a great man.

The Last Tycoon
17th August 2016 to 10th September 2016
ARTS THEATRE
GREAT NEWPORT STREET
LONDON, WC2H 7JB
https://artstheatrewestend.co.uk/

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