Writer: F Scott Fitzgerald, stage adaptation by Stephen Sharkey
Music: Ellie Verkerk
Director: Eliot Giuralarocca
Choreographer: Bronya Deutsch
Reviewer: Janet Jepson
You can’t repeat the past
Nick Carroway warns the wealthy Great Jay Gatsby, but we have to wonder if the lavish parties and decadent lifestyle mean that Gatsby is trying to do just that, or merely aiming to wipe out all his painful memories of what could not be. Either way, Blackeyed Theatre’s dazzling new stage adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic tale perfectly recreates the society of America’s Roaring Twenties, complete with all its sights, sounds and obsession with money and social status. Set in the summer of 1923, this was a time of wild excess, the austerity and misery of the First World War had passed, and unbridled materialism and self-indulgence reigned. Sadly Fitzgerald never reaped success from his novel. Sales after its publication in 1925 were poor, and he saw it as a failure. However after his death in 1940, as the Twenties lifestyle took on a rosy glow, there was renewed interest in the novel, and it became the much read and studied work that it is today. The recent film version starring Leonardo Di Caprio has further enhanced its popularity.
This production, as the novel, is undertaken in the style of a narrative seen through the eyes of the main character, Nick Carroway, played brilliantly by Adam Jowett. His slightly cynical rendition of the tale takes us through Gatsby’s story, all the while drawing in the lives of the other individuals who attend his parties and people his world. There’s Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan (Celia Cruwys-Finnigan) who carries a sad secret; her bullying husband Tom (Tristan Pate) with his many ‘bits on the side’; and the sexy, glamorous golfer Jordan Baker (Celeste De Veazey) who turns Nick’s head and almost drives him to destruction. Gatsby himself is portrayed as a slightly dream-like, enigmatic and elusive figure, and these qualities are captured perfectly by actor Max Roll. Tom Neill and Stacey Ghent complete the cast, taking the roles of the Wilsons and various partygoers and associates. Every cast member is an accomplished musician, and their renditions on saxophone, banjo and trumpet of various jazz pieces from the Twenties era are wonderful. Great numbers such as Rialto Ripples, Who’s Sorry Now and What’ll I Do give the show a feel of reality, which seems somewhat missing in its narrative style. Maybe that is the illusion that the writer wished to achieve, telling the tragic story through another layer as it were, to create dreamlike quality.
The set is monochrome and heavy on steps, but very effective. Clever lighting and stylish clear plastic chairs create atmosphere, vintage limousines, a swimming pool and party venues in mansions. A telegraph pole seems perfectly at home both in the countryside and in Gatsby’s ballroom. The costumes are straight out of the Roaring Twenties, with shiny tasselled dresses, slinky tunics over velvet pants, close-fitting cloche hats and sharp three-piece suits. There’s even a chance to slip on a vintage pair of ladies’ golfing plus-fours, as Jordan swings a golf club wildly and dangerously.
The Great Gatsby is a must-see, if only for the feeling of being transported back to a unique era almost a century ago, when fun, excess, inebriation and glamour reigned. Would we not all like to take a peek into that world? But hard on the heels of all this lurks the sobering lesson that life can come crashing down, and shallow popularity bought by wealth and status is not a means to findhappiness and true friendship. After all, no one even attended the Great Gatsby’s last party…
Runs until Saturday 27 February 2016 | Image: Contributed