Pros: A well-adapted script. Umm, that’s about it…
Cons: A passion-free and uninspiring performance with dodgy accents, bored actors, and sickly lighting.
The best theatre achieves a combination of inspiring, challenging and entertaining its audience. It should provide a means of escape, and earnest conversation on the tube home. However, when one experiences theatre that provides none of these things, one is inclined to feel somewhat robbed and cheated. Such was the way I felt last night, coming away from Theatre Collection’s production of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s (in)famous jazz era novel, The Great Gatsby.
Because I understand the work that goes into creating a piece of theatre, having at various times, produced, directed, stage managed, and performed, I am always hugely disappointed to experience a play where one of the best things I can say about it is that the actors knew their lines. Whilst I am always inclined to err on the side of the positive – because what am I doing by reviewing other than trying to encourage you, dear reader, to see more theatre? – there were few redeeming qualities to this production.
Its fundamental downfall was its lack of passion. Set in America’s jazz world, the story is one of parties, of death and tragedy, of love and loss and desire. The central character of Gatsby (Ben Oakes) is a beguiling and mysterious figure. Making his fortune through illegal trading in order to buy a huge mansion opposite the water from his ex-lover, then giving riotous parties hoping that she might turn up and leave her husband for him. Gatsby is a tough nut to crack for any actor. But little of his ambition, his charm, or his conviction that things would work out with Daisy were conveyed to us.
Ruth Petersen’s Daisy was a little better. A decidedly self-serving character with little regard for the feelings of others. However, whole cast other than Ramzi DeHani’s narrator Nick Carraway, were hampered by their faux-American accents. I am very much in favour of an actor using their own accent and it not being distracting, than making a poor attempt at the ‘right’ accent and struggling to understand what was being said.
The only performer who really grabbed our attention and made us believe that he felt something, was Tommie Grabiec in his role as Mr Wilson. He is the dull but loving car mechanic who, when his wife Myrtle is killed in a hit and run, tends to his wife’s body, promising to take her away and take better care of her.
Colour is a hugely important element to the story of Gatsby. Green is particularly evocative, representing Gatsby’s mysterious past and his longed for future with the now married Daisy. This production chose to convey this by having the stage invariably lit with a soft green haze, but this only served to make the performers look decidedly ill.
The little amount of scenery and props allowed by The Lord Stanley’s tiny and intimate pub stage gave an uncluttered and minimalist feel to the staging, but the stage itself was also utterly uncluttered by performers. Instead of using all the free space they had, each actor hugged the walls as if performing around a gaping hole in the middle of the stage. For the languid and apathetic golf champion Jordan (Emma Gonnella) this made sense; for almost everyone else it appeared that they were afraid to come too close to the audience.
In order to end on some sort of positive note, I will say that the adaptation of the book was very good. It was faithful to the original story, and used much of Fitzgerald’s prose. However as anyone who has read the book will know, it is not so much the plot that is memorable, but the imagery, the sense of haunting and loss, and the vivacious but tragic atmosphere woven in the words. I am sad to say that this production flatlined, and I hope that directors Victor Sobchak and Chris Diacopoulos, and Theatre Collection’s next production has a lot more jazz.
Based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Director: Victor Sobchak
Co-director: Chris Diacopoulos
Choreographer: Porl Matthews
Producer: Shaban Arifi
Information on future productions: http://www.theatrecollection.net