Writer of Original Novel: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Director & Adaptor: Emma Hodgkinson
Creative Director: Amy Backshall
With this enthusiastic homage to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic tale, theatre company Tethered Wits takes on The Great Gatsby. In anticipation and ready to revel in the romance of the 1920s, members of the audience saunter up in embellished flapper dresses, faux fur shoals, and sumptuous smoking jackets. As glittering as it is this evening at Brighton Open Air Theatre, the tale we have come to watch is not a bright one. Instead, we have assembled to see “careless people” riddled with status anxiety, and preoccupied with wealth and the power it provides. This iconic tale of obsession and possession is centred upon a collection of guarded dishonest characters who spend a great deal of time criticising, judging, and using one another. They’re a “rotten crowd”, so says author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unreliable narrator Nick Carraway, played tonight by Oliver Stockley.
At the heart of Fitzgerald’s classic American novel reside the damaging consequences of the American Dream, the devastating effects of the Great War, and the many prejudices of the 1920s regarding class, gender, sexuality, and race. Regardless, with an endearing hope that mirrors Jay Gatsby’s, the play opens on a more upbeat note from the era; a cocktail shaker is thrust back and forth through the air, creating a make-shift maraca. Oliver Stockley takes up a saxophone to accompany the rhythm it provides. A trombone then also joins the mix. Olivia Willis and Amelia Stanimeros tap dance in synchronicity from either side of the stage. This is a cast with multiple talents.
Given that only five actors play all the parts, we are introduced to many characters during the first half of the play. Thankfully, the revellers at Jay Gatsby’s wild parties wear fetching masks, so named characters can pass between them distinctively. Jordan Baker (Amelia Stanimeros), a friend of Nick’s second cousin Daisy (Olivia Willis), saunters through the party as she seeks out Nick (Oliver Stockley). Stanimeros also plays Myrtle, the mistress of Daisy’s husband Tom (Deakin Van Leeuwen), while Rory Dulku doubles as Jay Gatsby and Myrtle’s husband George Wilson. Dulku does a good job of fleshing out both characters, but those who know the story may well be anticipating the issue at the end of the performance. The production could really use more players to avoid unnecessary confusion and to make more of the most significant moments in the story.
The cast collectively makes a sterling effort to keep up their American accents, as well as acting out a play that is about a bunch of people who are more invested in their public image than in expressing real emotions and vulnerabilities. Costumes are well-chosen and props are generally put to good use. One of the great delights of the show is how the cast creates a car with two people spinning parasols to represent the turning wheels.
Although originally written in 1923-4 by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the company surprisingly does not fully credit the author in their program. This oversight could do with being addressed, given how they have created an adaptation of an existing story. Furthermore, this production assumes prior knowledge of the original in other ways too. It calls to mind the advice Nick’s father gave him, “Just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” This line is repeated throughout the play, sometimes like a haunting echo, warning against privilege.
Unless you know The Great Gatsby well, you could find yourself being left behind by this production. A few of the most iconic elements of the story are sadly not used or hard to identify. The green light Gatsby spends so much time staring at in the novel is barely referred to until the final scenes of the play. The eyes being hung on the floral arc to illustrate a scene change to the Valley of Ashes are not always moved in a timely fashion and are somewhat baffling to members of the audience who are not familiar with the story. As a result, some assume they must actually be the eyes of God, based on a line from George Wilson (Rory Dulku).
This production is approached with energy and enthusiasm. Despite some confusion for those seeing it new and a few disappointing omissions for fans, it is still an enjoyable night out at the theatre and an experience in which one can revel.
Reviewed on 20th July