REVIEW: Gatsby (Arts Theatre)

West%20End%20Wilma%20top%20banner%20email%20newsletter-2It’s doesn’t fill you with a lot of confidence when the show you have turned up to review is preceded by an on-stage announcement and a programme insert that pretty much says, ‘sorry, but this actually might not be very good”.

The excellent Ruby In The Dust’s production of Gatsby is running Mondays only for a month at the Arts Theatre (on American Idiot’s day off) and it comes with poster publicity displaying four star reviews from the show’s previous runs at the King’s Head Theatre and the Riverside Studios, which promises much. But it’s only on closer inspection (or on arrival) that we’re told that this is in fact a showcase production being used to hopefully gain further funding for a longer run.

Putting on a show where the set has to be built around that of another on-going production can’t be easy and it presented obvious limitations here; the cast having to cope with less than spacious conditions, poor mics and, worst of all, lighting that often seemed designed to blind the audience rather than illuminate the action on stage. But an announcement that the cast “hadn’t even had a dinner break” seemed like a desperate excuse for what was to follow. Come on guys, it’s theatre and it can be difficult, but it’s not the Western Front.

So all this wasn’t the best way to start an evening and I have to say what began on a downbeat note never really recovered.

F Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age story about enigmatic millionaire Jay Gatsby and a group of vacuous habitual partygoers set against a background of love, obsession and deception is a story ripe for adaptation into a musical, and Linnie Reedman and Joe Evans’ score has its moments. It particularly comes alive in the ensemble numbers, with I Bet He Killed a Man and Escape the Heat being the standouts. But there are not enough memorable songs here to make a whole.

The cast, as you would expect, does its very best. Simon Bailey is, as always, superb value as Tom Buchanan and he certainly gives the second act some much-needed oomph when he confronts the possibly duplicitous Gatsby. The stunning Matilda Sturridge is suitably fragile as Daisy Buchanan, and I loved the bluesy vocals of Kim Medcalf as the flighty Myrtle Wilson. But too many characters feel one dimensional — in particular Gatsby himself, who doesn’t convince as a man who has the charisma to draw hangers on like moths to a flame.

Or that’s how it all came across on the night.

I’m a huge fan of Ruby In The Dust; I really enjoyed their production of Dorian Gray, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream In New Orleans at the Arts remains one of the best things I’ve seen this year. Therefore, I’m prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt and view Gatsby as a work in progess performed in less than ideal conditions that I’m hopeful will come good in the end.

Just don’t go filling your show publicity with four-star reviews when you haven’t exactly got a complete production.

Reviewed by Tony Peters