Nick Carraway moves into an affluent neighbourhood, closer to his well-to-do cousin Daisy and her husband Tom, right next to the stately home of a certain Jay Gatsby. It’s the roaring twenties, and America’s high society spends most of those years drinking, chitchatting, drinking a little more, and dancing. Where they do it? At Gatsby’s place. Only – no one really has any idea who the mysterious host is, but equally they don’t shy away from perpetuating outrageous gossips. Nick is the only one who spends a large amount of time with his new neighbour, yet cannot seem to make sense of him either. It is only much later that Gatsby reveals his intentions to do with Daisy, while Nick’s mind is on his own romantic entanglement with famous athlete Jordan Baker.
This adaptation, as written by Stephen Sharkey, marks the 90th anniversary of the publication of Fitzgerald’s “Great American Novel”. Blackeyed Theatre are touring the UK with their performance with live music and sung interludes. Just as in the novel, the protagonist and narrator of the piece is Nick, but this adaptation really puts the focus on his storyline. As Gatsby’s tragic story moves to the background, we never seem to get the grand reveal of Jay’s past, nor give his love life greater significance than that of Nick. Sharkey, who has previously adapted works by Dostoyevsky, Dickens and Euripides, clearly knows his profession and condenses the novel remarkably without losing anything of the plot. However, the play does not conform so much to the golden rule of “show, don’t tell”, as almost anything that happens is narrated by Nick (kudos to Adam Jowett for confidently remembering such a massive amount of text), whether necessary or not. On the one hand, this is great, as it preserves a lot of Fitzgerald’s beautiful language and turns of phrases. On the other hand, it may have been more exciting to have a bit more action and a bit less of a monologue with occasional interruptions and interactions. Director Eliot Giuralarocca found the humour in the absurd behaviour of the careless characters, which makes for an enjoyable take on the material, but again also less heartbreaking.
The most worthwhile aspect of this performance are the musical interludes that add to the 20s atmosphere on stage. The entire cast is singing and playing instruments live on stage. Celia Cruwys-Finnigan’s voice is especially striking, as is her acting. The flamboyance of the colourful clothes and lighthearted musical performances stands in stark contrast to the abstract, minimalist white stage design. All in all, it is clear that a lot of effort went into this rendition, but it cannot quite convince. A good adaptation, but it does not carry the weight of the original.
Reviewed by Lisa Theresa-Downey-Dent
Photo: Mark Holiday