Friday, 9 October 2015

Theatre review: The Great Gatsby at Greenwich Theatre



©Mark Holiday

Having previously lived in South East London, Greenwich Theatre holds a very special place in my heart as my former local (aka a 'short' 40 minute walk from my house). I've seen some great productions there over the years, from exceptional tours of Spring Awakening and Avenue Q to Sincerely Mr Toad and, most recently, Tommy. Because of my past with this theatre I am always very keen to check out new productions making an appearance there, the latest being a stage adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's much-acclaimed classic The Great Gatsby.

Most, if not all, of you will be familiar with the story either through having read the novel or perhaps having seen the recent Oscar-winning screen adaptation by Baz Luhrmann. In case you aren't: the protagonist of the story is narrator Nick Carraway, who lives in the house next to Gatsby's on Long Island and gets pulled into his neighbour's world filled with extravagant parties and beautiful women. Jay Gatsby himself is a much for elusive character, especially during the first half of the story, rarely seen during the grand parties he throws until he and Nick meet and instantly form an unlikely friendship with at the heart of it the love of Gatsby's life; Daisy Buchanan.

Set admit the jazz scene and glamorous flapper dresses of the Roaring Twenties (not unlike other recent shows I've seen, including Thoroughly Modern Millie and Grand Hotel), The Great Gatsby is a story that swings with every piece of dialogue and husky musical performance, yet despite the grand events that define the summer of 1922, the spectacle and razzle-dazzle of Gatsby's world never truly comes across in this stage adaptation by Stephen Sharkey. The musical arrangements by Ellie Verkerk go some way to creating the vibrant atmosphere that leaps of the pages of the source material, but as this is a play with the occasional musical number, rather than a full-fledged musical, this isn't enough.

The cast comprised of just seven actors doubling up on roles, and even providing the musical accompaniment to the story, and their various transitions are wonderful to watch. Adam Jowett as Nick Carraway and Max Roll as titular Jay Gatsby are particularly charismatic, however such a small cast can only do so much to emulate the magnificence and enormity of the parties that take a prominent position within the story, which servce not only as a backdrop to the romantic entanglements but are the very essence what makes Gatsby so great.

Both the act 1 closer and the not-so-grand finale fizzle out rather than providing a fireworks finish worthy of one of Gatsby's legendary parties, and that's a shame. The cast does an admirable job with their theatrical adaptations of the classic characters, but without the lavish backdrop and the spectacular settings that go hand-in-hand with the page-turner, the story becomes bland and unmemorable, and there isn't enough on display to keep audiences engaged for its full two hours.




The Great Gatsby is running at Greenwich Theatre until 10 October 2015. You can book tickets here. For further tour dates (until March 2016) check the Blackeyed Theatre Company website.

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