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Review of Gatsby at the Union Theatre

Ruby in the Dust present Gatsby at the Union Theatre
Gatsby – Photo by Roy Tan

It started off promising enough, with members of the cast indulging in a form of immersive theatre, moving around the Union Theatre space amongst the audience, still in the bar and foyer as the house had not yet opened, engaging in what a certain satellite television channel would call ‘witty banter’. The party atmosphere thus established well before the show proper started, Gatsby deploys the show-and-tell approach of the musical Jersey Boys, slicing through narratives that would otherwise have taken quite a while to re-enact by simply stating to the audience a sequence of events that occurred.

Interestingly, for a show billed as a ‘musical’, there are sections of spoken word lasting some minutes, and sometimes contain so much more information and plot than the tunes around it that I am almost inclined to think of this more of a ‘play with songs’. In places I almost felt like I was waiting for a song to finish so the story could continue.

From where I was sat, the balance of volume between the band and soloists was not always perfect. While seeing actor-musicians on stage is almost always impressive to see, I regret to report that on this occasion, the extra instrumentalists accompanying the sublime Barnaby Southgate as musical director added little extra impact. While some vocals could not always be heard, I do not blame the band for this, even if the very title ‘actor-musician’ means the singers and band are largely the same people. Blair Robertson as Nick Carraway sings a marvellous solo towards the end of Act One that could be very clearly heard. I have no intention of singling out those I couldn’t quite hear perfectly, but suffice to say there are some projection issues that need to be addressed.

Thankfully, as the central character Gatsby (Nicolas Fagerberg) seems mostly focused on hosting functions and parties, parties and functions, little was lost in not catching every lyric. Very many sung lines were, as far as I could deduce, about what a wonderful thing it is for the characters to be able to let their down “at Gatsby’s” and enjoy themselves. As I say, it was in scenes heavy with spoken dialogue that more of the plot tended to be revealed. The ensemble numbers, I hasten to add, work brilliantly, making good use of the available stage space. I am not, alas, particularly impressed with the choreography – although to state precisely why would be giving too much away. I will only quote here what is sometimes said on BBC Television’s Strictly Come Dancing: “Too much ‘armography’!”

Ruby in the Dust present Gatsby at the Union Theatre
Gatsby Cast – Photo by Roy Tan

I suppose the challenge with an adaptation of such a well-known book is that at least some people in the audience simply are going to have an idea in their minds of what certain characters are going to be like, based on their understanding of what they have read. And while one or two personas were indeed different from how I had perceived them up to now, there’s nothing, character-wise, that’s absurd or out of place beyond reason.

The music, lyrics and book do flow very well together. Some of the tunes seemed to blend into one after a while, but perhaps they were supposed to. With the characters largely portrayed as having more money than sense (one lady complains it is too hot in the room but does not take off her scarf, for instance), including Gatsby, it’s difficult to sympathise with any of the characters whose fortunes take a turn for the worse. Still, there is some excellent acting in supporting roles, notably Ferne McCann as Myrtle Wilson and Zed Josef as Tom Buchanan.

A well-intentioned show with a determined effort from a hard-working cast, it could do with some tightening and trimming down, even if this meant the running time could no longer justify an interval. A fairly interesting experience but not the smoothest of theatrical journeys.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

We find Meyer Wolfsheim in his favourite ‘speakeasy’ having received the shock of his life. “When a man gets killed – I keep out!”. But this time there’s something else; something – or someone – that draws him into Gatsby’s world. Watch the characters of F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby come to life as they weave their way through the famous story and unravel the mystery that is Jay Gatsby.

Gatsby: the epitome of glitz, glamour and the end of the American Dream. The Roaring Twenties are heading towards their invariable crash, the party’s almost over.

Gatsby was first presented by Ruby in the Dust in 2012 at the King’s Head Theatre, and again in 2013 at the Riverside Studios, and was greeted with wide acclaim and sell out audiences on both occasions.

Ruby In The Dust present
Music & Lyrics by Joe Evans
Book by Linnie Reedman
6th to 30th April 2016


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