The Great Gatsby is a novel which seems to bear endless adaption, mutating into different forms. We’ve had numerous film adaptations, an eight-hour-long play, a ballet and now Ruby in the Dust present The Great Gatsby, the musical at Riverside Studios. It must be difficult not to be intimidated by such a wealth of adaptations, some very successful, but this production delivers its own unique take on F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic.
Director Linnie Reedman has noticeably stripped down this version, with all non-essential elements removed, including Nick Carraway’s framing narrative, with well-timed scenes following each other fluidly. The economy of the language of the original novel translates well into the economy of theatre and expression and the music is well-integrated and played live on stage by talented actor/ musicians, which make for a delightful touch. Given the genre and the setting of the piece, it would have been easy to allow the music to become gaudy and saccharine, but the music, composed by Joe Evans, is remarkably restrained. It fits the period and tone of the piece beautifully and never jars with the action. The set, designed by Christopher Hone, is clever and understated, like the rest of the production. It handles the difficult job of representing a diverse range of locations admirably, but does feel a little cramped at times. However, Riverside Studios is a relatively intimate venue, and the scale of the production and the performances fits in well, never overwhelming the space.
The performers are well cast and well directed by Reedman. They create distinct characters with an abundance of personality, facilitating many moments of genuine humour and pathos. Despite the removal of Nick Carraway’s framing narrative, his character continues to be the viewpoint through which the story is related, with Sid Phoenix playing the role with endearing naivety and charm. Matilda Sturridge plays Daisy less innocently than traditionally portrayed, but creates a complex and tragic character. Michael Lindall avoids the tempting cliché in his difficult role of Jay Gatsby, with moments of real charisma. Compelling performances abound from the rest of the cast, notably from Imogen Daines, who plays the sardonic Jordan Baker, and Naomi Bullock as Myrtle.
What is it about The Great Gatsby that attracts such seemingly endless, diverse adaptations? Perhaps in this age of austerity we are drawn more than ever to Fitzgerald’s vision of opulence and Gatsby’s classic journey from rags to riches. If there is solace to be found, it is bittersweet. The issues of class, identity and social climbing in the novel are well illustrated by this production, as it stylishly balances music and action, humour and poignancy.
The Great Gatsby is playing at the Riverside Studios until 8 June. For more information and tickets, see the Riverside Studios website.