The Great Gatsby, with its stunning eloquence, complex characters and mirage of excess, is not ideally suited for stage adaptation. The text of the play relies too heavily upon the poeticism of Nick’s monologues to bridge the gaps between haphazardly strung together key scenes from the book. Therefore, this must have been an incredibly difficult piece for the whole team to have worked with, and the limitations placed upon the actors and director because of the script were evident throughout this production.
The splicing of scenes inherent in the script created a void of tension that certainly inhibited performances. Out of place character choices affected Gatsby and Daisy in particular: in this production, they appeared one-dimensional. Steele and Corby, as Myrtle and Tom respectively, were most effective at creating strength and passion within a flawed script. It should also be noted that Steele’s accent was among the best, and her Myrtle, while lacking chemistry with both Wilson and Buchanan, was delicious to watch. On the whole, there were difficulties with the accents: having Tom Buchanan speak in an English accent not only broke the illusion of American excess that pervades the story but also caused other actors’ accents to falter and frequently slip back into their native English. Additionally, though I’m sure not intended by Hauser, having the most racist and difficult character be British, made an unavoidable comment on nationality that is completely irrelevant to Fitzgerald’s original tale.
A consequence of this difficult script was that its form and structure denied the building of tension throughout, and the choices made in this production did not do enough to balance this out. The decision to include so much humour, was for me, a major facet that let down what could have been an inspired vision. Undermining the tea-date between Gatsby and Daisy with comic creepiness detracted from any tension and chemistry that Fitzgerald intended with his setting and use of pathetic fallacy. Equally, the tension-riddled apartment scene, that sparks the tragic events of the latter half of the story, was tired and lacking in any drive or passion. The many movement sequences of the production could have been opportunities to make up for this lack of tension, however, they sadly lacked commitment across the board. The choreographed dance sequence, as well as the stage combat portions (which granted are always difficult to perfect in such a short rehearsal time), needed more energy flowing through the moves from beginning to end. The ghostly opening was a beautiful directorial choice: purveying tangible nostalgia that was incredibly at home in the story. That being said, when one is opening a show with such deliberate and slow dancing, it must be drilled until each actor is perfectly in time – here, sadly, this was not the case which undermined what was a striking premise for the opening. All things considered, the production could have done much more to tone down the comedy and try to rebuild tension; however, there were many facets of this production which showed great artistic promise.
Hauser’s set design coupled with a beautifully painted mural was truly inspired: her intention to set the show in Nick’s mind was strikingly represented in the decaying grandeur of the surrounding set. The white cloths that covered the furniture and the dusty boxes that flanked the stage perfectly evoked the decrepit reality of the American Dream. My only wish would have been that Hauser had pushed this idea further. The book pages that hung at the back of the stage, for example, created wonderful symbolism, but this would have been much more tangible and apparent had there been more than 4 strings of them.
The music choices were wonderfully energetic and helped to create an infectious atmosphere of 1920s grandeur. However, due partially I am sure to the venue and this being the production’s first night, there were issues with the mixing of music and sound balancing. I missed a large number of scenes in which background music drowned out the actors. This should have been taken into account since putting on an accent (as almost every actor was) will inevitably reduce one’s projection. With more time in the actual space, I’m sure this could have been rectified, and it’s always going to be an issue with a non-purpose-built venue.
Commendation must be given to Tumblety’s costuming and the hair and makeup by Nair, Miller, and McWilliams, which worked in harmony to create a wonderful vision of the 1920s. Jordan Baker’s hand painted art deco palazzo pants were a particular highlight and showed great skill on Tumblety’s part. My only critique is that since the casting of Gatsby and Tom did not differentiate them as intended in the characters’ descriptions, the costuming could have done a lot more to distinguish and oppose the two.
It was always going to be challenging to bring one of the most loved pieces of 20th century fiction to the stage, as almost every audience member will have read the book or at least seen the film. Though working with a difficult script, this production should nonetheless have noticed their material’s flaws and done much more to combat them – whether that be in movement, characterisation or costuming. This production also seemed to have significant difficulty with the show’s technical elements which sadly distracted from the many examples of nuanced artistic intention throughout.