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The Great Gatsby at The Actor’s Church in Covent Garden

Full disclosure, The Great Gatsby is one of those stories I know very little about. I’ve never read the book, seen the films and have the vaguest recollection of having seen a rather iffy musical version back in pre-pandemic days. I do know it is regarded by many as one of the finest books ever written so when offered the chance to spend a summer’s evening in St Paul’s churchyard in Covent Garden to see Tethered Wits Theatre’s open-air production, I said count me in.

The Great Gatsby. Photo credit Cosmic Xposure.
The Great Gatsby. Photo credit Cosmic Xposure.

The story is told as a first-person narrative by Nick Carraway (Oliver Stockley) a Yale alumnus from the Midwest and a World War I veteran, who has rented a bungalow in the Long Island village of West Egg, next to a luxurious estate inhabited by Jay Gatsby (Rory Dulku), an enigmatic multi-millionaire who hosts dazzling soirées for the local rich and powerful. Nick is not alone in the area as he has a distant cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Olivier Willis) living down the road in the more fashionable town of East Egg. Nick is also acquainted, from college days, with Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan (Deakin Van Leeuwen), formerly a Yale football star. The Buchanans have recently relocated from Chicago to a mansion directly across the bay from Gatsby’s estate. Over dinner with Daisy and Tom one evening, Nick meets Jordan Baker (Amelia Stanimeros), an insolent flapper and golf champion who is a childhood friend of Daisy’s and also a bit of a gossip. Jordan tells Nick about Tom’s mistress – Myrtle, married to garage owner/mechanic Geroge Wilson – who lives in the “valley of ashes”, a sprawling refuse dump, and also lets slip that Daisy and Gatsby knew each other previously. As the summer heat builds, and the lives of these seven become intertwined, secrets are revealed and lies exposed, and the stage is set for a fiery showdown that will change the lives of almost everyone involved.

In 1960, New York Times editorialist Mizener proclaimed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby a masterwork of 20th-century American literature. By 1974, it had attained its status as a literary masterwork and was deemed a contender for the title of the “Great American Novel”. Now, call me a philistine if you wish, but I have to ask the question: why is so much praise heaped on this book? I know scholars emphasize the novel’s treatment of social class, inherited versus self-made wealth, gender, race, and environmentalism, and its cynical attitude towards the American Dream. But to my mind, these things have been addressed in better ways. During the interval of the show, my companion Lynne and I were talking, and we both agreed that, apart from Nick, there was not one single likeable character in the story. And to be honest, Nick is a bit of a sap really. This was one of those stories when very early on, I stopped caring about any of the characters and what was going to happen to them. I could go on as to what turned me off each one, but I won’t. What I will say is that, and I don’t know if this is in the novel or Emma Hodgkinson’s adaptation, is that a story being told as a first-person narrative should not have scenes where that person isn’t present and cannot, therefore, know what is going on. This is particularly true in the second act where things occur that Nick, as the storyteller could not possibly be aware of what was occurring but we, the audience get to see it. Something I found very frustrating. I also felt that certain scenes could have been omitted from the production. Particularly, for me, Tom’s physical reaction to Myrtle talking about Daisy. I think we had already worked out Tom’s misogynistic, snobbish character and vile temper, and didn’t need it reinforced in the way it was.

Ok, now I’ve got all that off my chest, let’s turn to the production itself which was wonderful. The five actors were excellent. Hat’s off especially to Oliver Stockley for his portrayal of Nick, treading a fine line between being a narrator breaking the fourth wall, and being part of the action. A superb performance from this talented young actor.

In fact, all the performances were first-class. Most of the cast played more than one character and did so with style. Accents moved around as each character took their place and the costumes were authentic looking and added to the story of the person wearing them to make them a well-rounded figure. Amelia Stanimeros was particularly good at her different and at times very contrasting roles, all of whom felt very different from each other – as they should.

By performing in the entrance to the church, Director Emm Hodgkinson didn’t give her cast a massive area to use but they did use it really well, and I loved the 1920s props etc littered around the stage area which made it feel larger than it was.

All in all, whilst I am definitely not a fan of the story itself, I have nothing but good things to say about this production. I enjoyed every aspect of the performance itself. There were some issues with being able to hear everything, but considering we were in the heart of Covent Garden in the summer, these weren’t too bad and didn’t really distract us that much. Would I recommend going to see The Great Gatsby? On the whole, yes, I would. The show is cleverly put together and very entertaining. I didn’t like the story, but my attention didn’t wander as the multi-talented actors brought it to life in great style and in a truly wonderful setting.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

1920’s New York. A city full of dreamers. Through the eyes of Nick Carraway, we are introduced to the high-fliers (and low-lifes) of glitzy Manhattan. However, when he meets a certain Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire, he realises the parties are not always what they seem…

Featuring the music of Cole Porter & George Gershwin live on stage, this production promises to be a party to remember. An undisputed gem of American literature, Fitzgerald’s critique of the Jazz Age captures the glamorous façade of the era in style.

The Great Gatsby stars Rory Dulku as Jay Gatsby/George Wilson, Olivia Willis as Daisy Buchanan, Oliver Stockley as Nick Carraway, Amelia Stanimeros as Myrtle Wilson/Jordan Baker, Deakin Van Leeuwen as Tom Buchanan, and Amy Backshall as Understudy. The show is directed/adapted by Emma Hodgkinson, with composition/musical direction by Ashok Gupta, produced/choreographed by Gabriella Sills, and Amy Backshall and Amaal Fawzi as Company Stage Managers.


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