REVIEW: GATSBY (Union Theatre)

I didn’t see the original production of The Great Gatsby when it first played at the King’s Head Theatre in 2012, so I can’t say how it might have changed. Theatre company ‘Ruby in the Dust’ takes the musical, using the shorter title ‘Gatsby’ and a different cast, to the more intimate Union Theatre to celebrate their tenth anniversary. However, I wish the company had chosen a different production.

While we were waiting in front of the auditorium, some of the actors entered, trying to create a party atmosphere. These are the “Roaring Twenties” after all. They continued amusing themselves, and us, inside the auditorium where we were welcomed to a speakeasy with a sparse set consisting of a chandelier, some tables and chairs.

Jay Gatsby (Nicolas Fagerberg) has been murdered. Why? Gatsby’s business partner, gambler Meyer Wolfsheim (Paul DuBois), recollects: “It always comes to that – a beautiful woman.” In director Linnie Reedman’s adaptation, Wolfsheim replaces Nick Caraway (Blair Robertson) as the Narrator, which shifts the balance of the story and takes away from Nick’s character, leaving him with little to do. As we go back in time, we see Daisy (Joanna Brown) before her wedding to Tom Buchanan (Zed Josef), a rich and attractive bachelor and seemingly the perfect match. But Tom is also a womaniser as Daisy soon finds out, which does not lead to a harmonious marriage. Tom has a lover in New York, the seductive Myrtle (Ferne McCann), married to unassuming garage owner George Wilson (James Rallison). Myrtle does not mind cheating on her husband as long as it pays as she explains in her spirited song “Seize the Day”. As the rich live their careless lives, their interest is held by the mysterious Jay Gatsby: “Who’s the Man?” Then Gatsby appears.

The orchestra, led by Barnaby Southgate, is placed in the back behind a wooden frame resembling the face of a man with a gaping mouth. But most of the musicians are members of the cast who take their instruments and play them across the stage. Although this is an intimate space and the orchestra is small, consisting of only a few instruments, the music often drowns out the singers, particularly those who cannot project very well, which did not add to the enjoyment of the songs. Some of the ensemble numbers, such as “I Bet He Killed A Man” were very good but the choreography by Nick Pack was not a highlight of the show.

Sadly, there is little chemistry between the central characters of the production. Nicolas Fagerberg has a secretive, mysterious aura and Blair Robertson does his best with his reduced character but one does not feel any real sympathy for any of them except for James Rallison’s Wilson, who is one of the few real characters in this production along with Kate Marlais’ Jordan Baker, the quick-witted lady golfer, and Tom (Zed Josef) who shines in his showdown with Gatsby.

Reviewed by: Carolin Kopplin
Photo: Roy Tan

Gatsby is playing at Union Theatre until 30th April