Pros: Great routines, costumes and music; lighthearted frivolity.
Cons: Overreliance on the book and film; poor characterisation.
The Greenwich Theatre has an unassuming façade. It has a rather unassuming inside too. The box office and bar feel more school disco than anything classier. Once you get in the theatre this impression changes; inside is a good mid-sized hall and the Art Deco set worked well as its centrepiece. With the piano off at the side, it felt stylishly seventies – white walls everywhere, like that episode of Absolutely Fabulous where they can’t find any of the white furniture in the all-white house. So it was maybe not quite 1920s, but the dresses yelled flappers and, gentlemen, they kept my attention for a good part of the production.
The main mistake of The Great Gatsby was to try too hard to adhere to the book and the recent film, instead of carving out its own place. The book’s prose is beautiful in its own right; the film is beautiful in its own right. The play needed to give something new to the mix. It might seem unfair to so blatantly compare the play to the book or film, but in being drawn from the same source material, the play invites comparisons. The old adage goes that film shouldn’t tell you what’s happening; it should show you. The same isn’t entirely true for theatre, but overuse of soliloquy and fourth wall breaks suggested a lack of innovation in the adaption and an attempt to put a book on the stage without taking the time to consider the difference in medium.
As far as I could hear from the chattering crowd, the main complaint was that Gatsby – the elusive, enigmatic Gatsby – wasn’t hyped in the way he needed to be. The play was missing a sense of the aura Gatsby has built around himself before we start to unravel him.
The choreography, though it sometimes felt misplaced, was executed perfectly. The actors themselves weren’t bad. My companion thought the casting was off but I felt that it too might be have been overly influenced by the source material. Tom Buchannan, played by Tristan Pate, embodied the boyish, privileged brute well. Celeste de Veazey and Celia Cruwys-Finnigan, playing Jordan Baker and Daisy Buchannan, respectively, were happy additions. Unfortunately, you felt they were mostly wasted through misguided direction and an uncertain script. In parts where they got to act, without timed moments or sudden breaks for Nick Carraway to read a paragraph of Fitzgerald’s prose, they were engaging and interesting and told the story in a way that was, well, theatrical.
The Great Gatsby was pretty and full of music and life, but, with the overreliance on the book for its prose and the film for its style, the prettiness couldn’t hold my attention for long. Though some parts worked – the lighting and music were generally well done in the more dramatic scenes – too much of the rest lacked anything new.
Adapted from the novel by: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Adapted by: Stephen Sharkey
Director: Eliot Giuralarocca
Musical Director: Ellie Verkerk
Booking Until: 10 October 2015
Box Office: 020 8858 7755
Booking Link: greenwichtheatre.org.uk