In this time of pinched wallets, health drives and the coldest Easter on record, we’re clearly aching for the turn of the American century, for a great tale of love and summer, big parties and bigger cities, loose morals and cheap liquor. We’re in love with, longing for, for the Great Gatsby, and specifically for the reincarnated version, taken from one woozy, amorous, creator into the high-thrills, spectacular vision of another, from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Baz Luhrmann. The film is out in the UK on 17 May. And in the meantime, we’ve had Gatz, the eight-hour uncut version from New York’s Elevator Repair Service, Great Gatsby the musical from Young Vic director Linnie Reedman, and The Great Gatsby at Wilton’s Music Hall, which I went to see two weeks ago. This opinion piece is rather out of date, and I apologise for the fact that it seems as if the performance is sold out.
This Gatsby (what Gatsby?) is an all-singing, all-dancing production that plugs effort into recreating the huge parties on Cape Cod, but fails ultimately to convey the pervasive melancholy that makes the book so powerful. The music is good, well-executed in showy voices closely grouped in barbershop style. When the chaps pop out behind the gramophone after Daisy has asked for some music, we’re initiated in the kind of hand-made theatre in which this production is going to specialise. I liked the costumes, the set dressing (simple and brought on by the small cast themselves) and the setting of Wilton’s Music Hall was an inspired choice. From the outside, the building is all peeling paint and wonky walls but inside, we found an evident residual glamour; the building is almost breathed back into a life it might have once had by this production, revived as the scene of bright young things back in the early 20th century.
Yet among the production’s significant successes, there lie a number of drawbacks, not least of which is the size of the cast. On the one hand, this feels like intimacy, speaking to the kind of make-your-own-fun atmosphere that would have necessarily characterised these strange Gatsby parties, and even carrying the much darker understanding that, to all intents and purposes, these are the only people who matter, in New England, in the world. But there isn’t enough background noise. The actors shout at the tops of their voices, brandishing their elocution and projection lessons and showing off their polished American accents. But what noise do they have to defeat? Where are the swing bands, the incessant chatter, the screams and the sighs? At one point, the audience is required to stand up and the hall fills with chatter as the interval starts. Then, one glimpses the steady hum of society against which Gatsby and Daisy act out their doomed love. as the interval progresses, it becomes clear what I will remember from this performance: the invitation to join the cast in dancing the Charleston on stage, the sing-a-long in a back room, the charming waiter who pours my friend and I whiskey shots (that’s definitely whiskey with and ‘e’), and the audience members who have really gone to town with feathers, dropped waists and sequins. When we resume for the second half, the melancholy drifts in like morning mist, working especially well in the early morning swimming scene with Gatsby poised on the edge of a ‘pool’ moments before his death. But the climax is awkward, the final, treasured words ‘So we beat on…’ delivered monotonously whilst staring out into the middle distance. We enjoyed being the heart and soul of the production in the interval, I defintely want to see more of Wilton’s, but I missed the dark side of paradise.
(Did you see this production, or want to see this? I was so disappointed that I never managed to make Gatz and this was, sadly, a poor substitute!)