Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | The Great Gatsby at Greenwich Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | The Great Gatsby at Greenwich Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | The Great Gatsby at Greenwich Theatre
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09 Oct REVIEW: The Great Gatsby at Greenwich Theatre

The Great Gatsby Production image courtesy Mark Holiday (17)The last 3 years have seen quite the resurgence in popularity of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, buoyed by the blockbusting Baz Luhrmann movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire. It was 2013 and ’14’s theme of the moment, trickling down from catwalk styling to high street fashion, before gracing the invitations of myriad corporate functions and finally fading from immediacy.

Arguably presented a little too late in the inexorable popularity cycle, The Great Gatsby has now come to the stage, a production that suffers from inevitable comparisons to too many megabucks versions, but a production which retains through the script the words of Fitzgerald, incredible writing that makes the book of the best-loved pieces of American literature.

A prohibition-era story of love and loss centred around the enigmatic Gatsby, it’s easy to see why, a couple of years ago, The Great Gatsby was such a tempting theme for party planners, his parties the epitome of extravagant hospitality and audacious excess, a wonderful excuse to ask guests to wear fabulous costumes, and free reign to create explosions of art deco festivities in otherwise homogenous ballrooms. It seems strange, then, to have a book that’s such a visual feast for the imagination translated onto an abstract monochrome set (Victoria Spearing) that’s more 2012 minimalist than 1922 decadence, without even the lightest of Jazz Era touches; it’s a set that’s undeniably beautiful, but its understated design seems at direct odds with the ostentatiousness of the literary Gatsby. And whilst it could be argued that the white serves as a canvas for audiences to project their own imaginations onto, there’s insufficient richness in the atmosphere for that to come to fruition…

When you’re reading The Great Gatsby, it’s hard not to wish you went to parties like his, Fitzgerald’s vividly described scenes fizzing with energy, where just reading the words on the page creates a hubbub of mindless chitter chatter, disembodied squeals drifting across the place, and laughter spontaneously breaking out. For many, that’s the overarching essence of the book, and it’s certainly the reason it was such a popular party theme. But it’s an essence that never quite comes through in the play, lost between the necessarily limited number of actors on stage and the deafening absence of any background sounds that might suggest a “busy party scene.” It would have been the perfect opportunity to use the projectors to theatrical effect, shining decoration or crowds of people onto the rear of the stage. But without any of this, it all feels rather flat, and where there should be a riotous party scene, instead there are voices echoing around an empty stage.

The Great Gatsby Celeste De Veazey & Celia Cruwys-Finnigan courtesy Mark Holiday (1)Perhaps there’s a mismatch when it comes to the venue – in a studio or smaller theatre, with a smaller stage, the cast could fill the space more effectively. And with a smaller venue, there would probably be more ambient sound around to make the background silence less stark. But aside from this lack of atmosphere, the actors do well to deliver assured performances, particularly Adam Jowett as narrator Nick Carraway, and the addition of a number of songs played live onstage brings a lovely musicality to the piece, even if it’s disruptive to the storytelling flow and a bit too cabaret-style to really work.

It’s incredibly hard to put together a show that will inevitably be compared to a films with astronomical budgets and the creative hands of some of the greatest fashion designers of the century (the 2013 film had costumes by Prada and in 1974 by Ralph Lauren). With the weight of expectation heavy on the show’s shoulders, it would have taken a near miracle for it to rise up and meet them, so of course it falls a long way short. But with Fitzgerald’s twisting narrative and exquisite descriptions taken verbatim from the novel, the richness of the source material is so intense it can’t help but shine through.

For tickets and information:
Venue: Greenwich Theatre
Images: Alex-Harvey Brown (header) and Mark Holiday (content)

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here