AdaptationDramaReviewSouth West

The Great Gatsby – The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol

Reviewer: Joan Phillips

Writer: F Scott Fitzgerald (adapted by James Newton)

Director: Tom Brennan

It is a bold move to take Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920’s classic commentary on the American Dream in the Jazz Age and reduce it to a two-person show. But Bristol’s Wardrobe Ensemble largely succeeds in doing just that.

Dramaturg James Newton condenses the epic scale of the original short story into a 90-minute show. The whole production is almost one long, enormous party, interrupted by ‘morning after’ chapter breaks, with characters throwing yet another drink over their shoulders. But the energetic atmosphere of the addictive hedonism of each new day gradually, yet dramatically, dissipates during the evening into one long hangover as the cracks in the character’s façades begin to show.

Jesse Meadows and Tamsin Hurtado Clarke play all the characters. Meadows seamlessly switches from Nick Carraway to Daisy Buchanan with a voice change, a simple drop of the shirt off her shoulder and a tilt of the head. Tom Buchanan, Jay Gatsby and Jordan Baker are all played by Hurtado Clarke equally at ease morphing from imperious snob (Buchanan), aloof and full of attitude (Baker), to charming ‘old sport’ (Gatsby). Both talented performers even manage to perform seemingly effortless, simultaneous conversations between their own characters.

Designer Katie Sykes uses a stripped back set, centred around a sofa used variously as a horse, train, terrain and – even a sofa, in front of a large backdrop at which the characters literally ‘paint the town’ during the parties, and from the which the oculist’s eyes peer down on the events. Sound composition from Tom Crosley-Thorne successfully punctuates the dramatic moments and, synchronised with the performers, adds crucial texture and humour.

This minimalist version can’t give justice to the epic scale of the legendary parties, magnificent homes and lifestyles of the privileged east coast elite, and of America in the roaring twenties. While this is certainly missed, this adaptation does convey the ennui and shallow lifestyles as the characters aimlessly lubricate their lives with champagne between each party, polo match, or while they wait for the longest day of the year.

Missing too is the breathtakingly hopeless, tragic naivety of Gatsby’s soaringly romantic dreams for Daisy and his own social acceptance. The whole is rather episodic and chaotic, missing the hope and beauty of the ‘American Dream’, pointing only at vulgarity. Deepraj Singh’s jarring choreography lays clear society’s grotesque underbelly as their veneer of politeness slips away with each party.

One by one the shallow insincerity of each character is revealed. Tom’s cruelty is barely beneath the surface from the onset. Nick and Jordan, apparently critical onlookers at the start, are revealed to be complicit in the ugly goings-on. Even the romance between Daisy and Tom at the heart of the story is exposed as an impossible dream – Daisy’s shallow heart is as unattainable to Gatsby as his goal of achieving social respectability. The unforeseen tragedy of the story is, despite the hints at his violent other life, Gatsby ends up as the most sympathetic character. In this respect, this production doesn’t miss a beat.

Runs until 2 October 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Imaginative re-telling of an American classic

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. 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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