THE GREAT GATSBY
Crescent Theatre, Saturday 10th September, 2017
The Crescent’s new season gets off to a fine start with this adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous novel. Stephen Sharkey’s script retains the timbre of Fitzgerald’s prose, mainly in the mouth of our narrator Nick Carraway (John O’Neill). Through Nick’s eyes we visit the partygoing rich of the Twenties, a carefree elite who drink and dance every night away. By sheer coincidence, Nick happens to be renting a property next to the massive mansion of the titular Gatsby, who happens to be an old flame of Nick’s cousin, Daisy, who has since married Tom Buchanan… Gatsby urges Nick to organise a reunion, an event from which tragedy springs.
John O’Neill is a serviceable narrator, handling Fitzgerald’s heady words in a matter-of-fact way. As Gatsby, Guy Houston exudes a suave and easy charm; along with Nick we come to understand the man and his motivations. Colette Nooney’s Daisy is coolly laconic while Laura Poyner’s fiery Myrtle injects passion into the piece. Mark Fletcher’s Tom Buchanan has an air of Clark Gable to him. Kimberley Bradshaw seems perfectly at home in the era as famous golfer, Jordan Baker. All the main players are in fine form, in fact, with strong support from character parts: Jason Timmington’s Treves, for example, and Simon King’s Wolfsheim, who brings a flavour New York into this rarefied atmosphere. James Browning’s George Wilson is a fine characterisation but he needs to lift his head more so we see more than the top of his flat cap.
The play saves all its action until the end as the consequences of the characters’ behaviour burst to the fore. We are amused by these people but kept at a distance from them – in the end, we have only warmed to Nick and Gatsby – and so Fitzgerald’s critique of the in-crowd sinks in its teeth. This is the empty hedonism of Made In Chelsea with dramatic bite.
As ever, production values at the Crescent are strong. The art deco arches that represent Gatsby’s gaff, with their artificially organic elegance, evoke the period as soon as we see them. Keith Harris’s set flows swiftly from each location to the next – there are a lot of scenes and changes are enhanced by Jake Hotchin and Tom Buckby’s lighting design, especially the beautiful work on the cyclorama. Stewart Snape’s costumes fulfil our expectations of the era – Gatsby’s outfits are particularly snazzy – and Jo Thackwray’s choreography gives us all the Charleston moves and black bottoms we could wish for. If I had to nit-pick, I would say at times the music playback needs to be a touch louder, and a crucial sound effect – a car crash – needs to have more impact. It is the turning point of the story, after all.
Director Colin Judges keeps a steady pace, allowing moments of humour to surface like bubbles in champagne. Stylish and elegant, this is a great Gatsby.