The Great Gatsby: A Live Radio Play – Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham

Reviewer: James Garrington

Writer: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Adaptor: Joe Landry

Director: Alexandra Whiteley

We’re transported to a 1940s radio studio at the Blue Orange Theatre as a cast of six presents a live broadcast of the classic American novel The Great Gatsby, complete with live sound effects and breaks for period-era commercials. The classic novel is set in the jazz age, where Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire, is pursuing Daisy Buchanan, the woman he’s loved since he met her several years ago. It’s a tale of love and betrayal, of deception and tragedy, and of the dangers of the Great American Dream – and we get to see the action in the studio as well as hear the story.

After an audience sing-song as a warm-up, we go live on-air and the play starts – and once we’re over a few initial nervous jitters, it soon gets into its stride as the cast immerse themselves into their roles of 1940s actors. Louis McCoy’s Freddie Filmore introduces us to the cast and sets the scene then settles into the title role, handing over to Thom Stafford who leads us through the action beautifully as Jake Laurents, playing the role of Gatsby’s neighbour and the narrator of the book, Nick Carraway.

Sharing the stage with them is Jessica Melia as a well-judged Daisy, with Charlotte East as mould-breaking golfer Jordan Baker, both of them portrayed just as you might imagine them from the book, with Jason Adam and Terri-Leigh Nevin completing the cast. This being a radio play they inevitably cover a number of other characters too – none less than Adam and Nevin who demonstrate a good variety of voices to play the different roles.

Radio wouldn’t be complete without the sound effects, and this being the 1940s, these are performed by the cast live on stage using an impressively-conceived range of items that you wouldn’t have thought could possibly make the sounds they do. Full marks to the creative team here for ingenuity and creativity – and possibly more than a little experimentation.

There’s a danger that some of the off-mic antics can get to be a bit excessive, which becomes a distraction from what’s going on at the front. The result is that they seem to become more important than the story on occasion, as though there’s a feeling that the novel’s plot won’t stand up on its own and needs something more to entertain us, which is a shame. Care should also be taken about how the lines are delivered sometimes – it’s a radio play, and radio actors read from their scripts – but it’s essential that that doesn’t come across to the audience as the theatre cast reading their lines (especially when they’re highlighted in bright yellow).

It’s an entertaining event on the whole, and if you’ve not read – or have forgotten – the novel it’s a good way of introducing you to the story. It’s well worth seeing, and deserving of a bigger audience than they got on the opening night.

Runs Until 29 January 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Entertaining reminder of the novel

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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