The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite novels of all time. Its inherent despair, the struggling relationships, and that never-ending desire to reach the American Dream… I love it. So I had big hopes for this play.
On first sight the set is promising: its minimalist, almost Berkovian layout is aesthetically very interesting, and they definitely utilise the space effectively. Actors run up and down, left and right (with the women in heels, no less) and we have trouble sometimes keeping our eye on them all. This, I assume, is the aim – to recreate that 1920s feel of the Jazz Age, hedonism and frivolity.
In the least smug way possible, I think the problem was I knew too much. As a stand alone play it is commendable; the fact that I had read Fitzgerald’s novel and seen Luhrmann’s film too many times meant my expectations were too high for a production that is based in minimalism.
The acting itself is varied: Nick Carraway (played by Adam Jowett) is a good actor, but the direction is wrong. Nick in the book, for me at least, isn’t the most likeable character and we’re never really sure if he’s completely reliable. Jowett plays a trustworthy narrator that is full of vitality and humour, and it is an accomplished performance – yet not true to the book. Celeste de Veazey, who plays Jordan Baker, is the most enigmatic; her physique suits the character perfectly and she finds that balance between carelessness and cautiousness. I was really impressed by her development of the character.
Stephen Harrison’s special effects also need to up their game. Most of the time the ‘eyes of God’ look like a badly-done Photoshop job. It’s very GCSE-esque, and considering this is a professional company they really need to brush up on their animation techniques. I’m not exactly an animation expert, but it is painfully clear that it was rushed.
One thing that keeps the energy up is the musicality of the show. Each performer plays an arrangement of instruments throughout, including saxophone, banjo and even spoons. It is a really good way of keeping the story going, as the script keeps very close to Fitzgerald’s dense vocabulary.
All in all this is an enjoyable evening, and the show has real potential, but it’s hard to create a minimalist play from one of the most ostentatious environments ever to be written. It is definitely an interpretation I’d never considered.
The Great Gatsby is playing at the Greenwich Theatre until 10 October. For more information and tickets, see the Greenwich Theatre website. Photo: Mark Holiday.