sat 20/07/2024

The Great Gatsby, Immersive London review – a warm and electric tribute to the book | reviews, news & interviews

The Great Gatsby, Immersive London review – a warm and electric tribute to the book

The Great Gatsby, Immersive London review – a warm and electric tribute to the book

It's a true achievement to feel the chemistry of a cast whirring into action again

Drugged on dreams and idealism: Craig Hamilton and Lucinda Turner as the tragic loversMark Senior

The Prohibition-era setting of The Great Gatsby brings an appropriately illicit feel to this bold decision to stage an immersive theatre event in the age of Covid.

Where, in 1922, champagne was the essential liquid to get any evening going, here it’s hand sanitiser fluid, before you’re led – hopefully wearing a suitably decadent facemask – to a socially-distanced place in the speakeasy where the action will unfold. 

In a bold opening, the script swoops straight from the novel’s beginning to its end, so that the narrator, Nick Carraway, flags up Gatsby’s death before we meet him. It’s one of the paradoxes of a work that shimmers with hedonism that essentially it’s a tragedy, and any adaptation has to whisk you to what Fitzgerald poignantly describes as “the silver pepper of the stars” before dropping you to earth with a bang. 

The creative team, led by director Alexander Wright, conveys the rapid beat of the novel’s heart by introducing the characters with a lively music and dance number that makes the whole room shake. It’s the right decision to lead with the impressionistic glitter of Fitzgerald’s prose in Carraway’s opening monologue – "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future…". But this dance sequence, dynamically choreographed by Holly Beasley-Garrigan, is the moment the production really takes off.

Fitzgerald portrays a society getting high on the fact that those who can attend parties have survived firstly the most devastating war then ever experienced by humanity, and secondly the Spanish flu. Nobody here wants realism – they want to drug themselves on dreams and idealism – and the result is both liberating and toxic for everyone involved.   

It’s no small indication of Gatsby’s standing in the cultural imagination that those who have played him on film (there have been four adaptations) have included Robert Redford in the 1974 version scripted by Francis Ford Coppola, and, most recently, Leonardo DiCaprio. Any actor who plays him must simultaneously evoke his detachment from the glittering world that surrounds him and his charisma, and Craig Hamilton rises both sensitively and wittily to the challenge.

Daisy too – played in the same adaptations by Mia Farrow and Carey Mulligan respectively – needs, almost impossibly, to evoke a woman who is both loveable and utterly self-absorbed. Lucinda Turner manages to be as enchanting as the story demands by conveying how lost she is beneath the brittle glamour of the world she inhabits; a victim of others’ expectations as much as her own. 

The counterpoint to their tragic love story is the affair between Daisy’s husband, Tom (played with appropriately testosterone-fuelled confidence by Dean Graham) and Myrtle Wilson (a vivacious, assertive MJ Lee - see below). In the book, Myrtle Wilson lives with the clapped-out car mechanic husband who still worships her; here George Wilson (Lucas Jones) becomes a cocktail bar pianist playing an exhausted accompaniment to her vibrant singing act. 

There are inevitable shortcomings to this production, though whether you should criticise it for such shortcomings is questionable at this point in time. The transcendent euphoria of the party scene depicted here inevitably feels slightly stilted with everybody worrying about even breathing on a stranger. Yet somehow there is a joy and a spark. So much – admittedly very good – theatre since lockdown has been all too appropriately about caution and monologues. It’s a true achievement to feel the chemistry of a cast whirring into action again. 

Aside from the leading roles, James Lawrence as Nick Carraway delivers Fitzgerald’s narrative with powerful poignancy, and as his lover Jordan Baker, Ivy Corbin is both sassy and compelling. Throughout the evening different sections of the audience are beckoned into side rooms to witness different threads of the story as they unravel. This is a generally effective device, though again you feel there would be a greater impact with greater numbers. 

Such reservations aside, the evening is a warm and electric tribute to a book that never fails to astonish in its attempt to chronicle a generation trying to bury the mass tragedy of war with manic hedonism. We are enduring a lesser and different tragedy now, but that fundamental desire to connect with others gives us a sympathy with characters glittering and dancing as if their lives depended on it, even if that dance ultimately leads them to hell. 


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