I have never read The Great Gatsby. I know very little about The Great Gatsby. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, apart from that meme of Leonardo DiCaprio toasting his glass, I know nothing at all about the Great Gatsby.
But that doesn’t stop me from pulling out a shimmery gold dress and Charleston-ing down to Gatsby’s Mansion for my first foray into live theatre since March 6th.
And what a way to return!
Immersive theatre is my theatre mistress, and I am excited to once again throw myself into her embrace, although I do wonder how the nature of immersion can be retained while also observing COVID-safe protocol. I am unsure of what this show will look like and, being of relatively high risk, a small seed of anxiety is buried in my belly.
But as soon as I enter the venue and am walked through the safety protocol, I am immediately put at ease, leaving me free to enjoy my trip back to 1920s Long Island.
The reception room is positively buzzing with energy, and I can feel that the other audience members are just as excited as I am to be back in the throes of live entertainment. The cast greet us fervently as we check-in and a waiter shows us to our seats. The room is dripping with glitz and glamour: ‘JG’ initials plastered over the walls; a lofty, illuminated water feature; and not one, but two pianos.
The first act is light-hearted and full of levity; I truly do feel like an invited guest at this party as the characters stroll through the space, introducing themselves and making small talk (with Long Island accents that personally bring my heart such joy).
After a rousing group dance number, the characters dissipate throughout the mansion, making their way through numerous side rooms, taking various audience members with them as they do. I wonder how many side scenes and stories go on over the course of the hour and a half that makes up the first act.
As far as I can tell, the fun of the first act lies in the fact that it explores characters and relationships more than specific story events. The aspects of the story that are important are repeated as often as necessary, fortunately without feeling heavy-handed or incessant. So, while I am aware that I am missing areas of character development on my adventures throughout the mansion, it feels natural. You can only make so many new friends at a party.
After the interval, the production must root itself more in story. As such, the tone of the second act is more serious, and there is less space for playfulness; fewer opportunities for the cast to meander through the audience, gleefully selecting their entourages and temporary best friends. The character establishment and relationship development that was explored in the first act becomes incredibly relevant and drives the show forward. There are still small side scenes throughout the heavier nature of this act, but it seems you have to be placed near an exit to be chosen for them. It makes sense. The events of the second act require a certain reverence, best observed by ensuring there is as little disruption as possible.
I tip my hat, or feather-adorned headband as the case may be, to the cast and crew of the show. They’ve managed to retain the magic of immersive theatre while adjusting to the demands of a COVID-stricken world. The cast are all positively magnetic: they bounce off of their audience members with ease and effervescence, and I leave the mansion with a smile on my face.
The FOMO-experiencing perfectionist that I am, I can’t help but wonder what journey a different path would have taken me on: what I would have learned that I otherwise leave the theatre ignorant about. Perhaps I’ll actually read the novel now!
Or maybe I’ll just book another visit…
The Great Gatsby is now booking until February 2021. For tickets and booking dates, visit Immersive Gatsby’s website.