F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, widely regarded as a contemporary American classic, provides a snapshot of the Prohibition era and critiques the notion of the American Dream. In advance of Baz Luhrman’s much-anticipated film version, Peter Joucla’s production at Wilton’s Music Hall is the first of three stage adaptations opening in London this year, and gets the ball rolling with mixed success.
The Wilton’s team have gone to extraordinary lengths to give their audience an authentic 1920s experience with a ‘speakeasy’ serving cocktails in jam jars, and a jazz band perform during the interval. However, despite the promise of a ‘site specific’ production, the party atmosphere doesn’t quite carry through to the show itself.
Michael Malarkey as the enigmatic Gatsby stands out, looking and sounding every inch like a Golden Age Hollywood idol
It starts promisingly enough, with the cast performing as a barbershop choir, before the first scene bursts to life and we are introduced to Nick Caraway, Nick Chambers, through whose eyes the action unfolds. The choir reappears at every scene change, but although Roger Moon’s arrangements of jazz standards are impressive, and the singing is excellent, this device often threatens to slow down the momentum of the action.
In a generally strong cast, Michael Malarkey as the enigmatic Gatsby stands out, looking and sounding every inch like a Golden Age Hollywood idol. However, Joucla’s adaptation condenses the action to such an extent that several characters feel underdeveloped and Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy, an effervescent Kirsty Besterman, and Nick’s burgeoning relationship with Vicki Campbell’s bubbly golf champion Jordan Parks are only touched upon.
Lucy Wilkinson’s design seeks to emulate the beautiful architecture of Wilton’s but only pales in comparison, resulting sadly in a disconnect between our world and the all-too obviously artificial world of the play. Although attempts are made to include the audience as guests at one of Gatsby’s fabulous parties, the majority of the action still takes place onstage, leaving them yearning for the intimacy and excitement of the pre-show party front-of-house, in a show that – like the American Dream itself – never quite lives up to its promise.
*** (3 stars)
Runs until 19th May