The Wilton’s Music Hall is a fairytale venue for this production of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, The Great Gatsby. Stepping through the great oak doors on an otherwise inconspicuous Shoreditch street, one is immediately transported to yet another of Gatsby’s legendary parties. Audience members dressed as flappers flit past excitedly and the music blares, the bubbling atmosphere perfectly recreating a sense of the roaring twenties.
As the oldest Grand Music Hall in the world, Wilton’s is the perfect place to throw a party. And yet it is as we enter the auditorium that its connection to the themes of the The Great Gatsby becomes apparent. Its dying beauty, combined with the exquisite Art Deco set, designed by Lucy Wilkinson, perfectly conveys the fleeting nature and falseness of an age so decadent. and yet living on borrowed time. Hurtling towards the Great Depression, the revellers cannot hide the crumbling walls regardless of the beautiful set they try to hide them behind. Idly leaning and dancing from their Grecian columns, the impoverished cracks of this aged stage creep towards them, threatening to swallow them whole.
The musical intervals also emphasise the notion of a world about to collapse in upon itself. Wonderfully performed by an expert chorus, it works to capture some of the buzzing energy of that time and yet, without any instrumental accompaniment, the sounds feel strangely flat as it travels from the stage. The echo of their voices gives the impression of people that have created a vacuum around themselves, sealed and truly isolated from the problems of the world outside. Trapped in this vacuum, the only difficulty these people face is the question of Gatsby himself. Masquerading as one of them, he has in fact made his fortune benefitting from the poverty they retreat from. As this ugly truth begins to unravel, the musical interludes descend into a low forbidding hum that finally unmasks the true menace behind their jolly singing and laughter.
Kyle Redmond-Jones as Gatsby is truly enigmatic, his stillness and composure allowing only ripples of his true feelings to show, and yet he gives enough to keep us captivated. His performance also works as a lovely contrast to the open and quivering fragility of Eleanor Howell’s Daisy. Christopher Brandon as playboy Tom encapsulates the darker elements of this story perfectly, spitting out his words like bullets as his aggression overspills like that of a spoilt child.
The Great Gatsby is an absolute ball from start to finish, sweeping up its audience into the celebratory atmosphere. Its real success, however, is the darkness it adds to its seemingly light and friendly touch, unmasking the greed behind the frivolity and reminding us that indeed, “the best things in life are free”.
The Great Gatsby is playing at the Wilton’s Music Theatre until 23 March 2013. For tickets and information on the Wilton’s ongoing refurbishment fundraising, please see http://wiltons.org.uk/