February 27, 2014
The 1920s Jazz Age in East Coast America. The mysterious millionaire Gatsby (Percy Stubbs) has a huge mansion on Long Island and is known far and wide for his lavish, extravagant parties; a golden boy, or rather “gleaming like silver” in the words of the love of his life Daisy (Hannah Schofield), now married to Tom Buchanan (Charlie Vaughan), an uncouth rich man of her own. Even in love, the wealthy can't always make things work; and these three plus Tom’s downmarket lover Myrtle form a quatrain that soon turns into a dance of death.
We learn about these people largely through the eyes of Nick Carraway, an ambitious young man, an outsider lately come to the neighbourhood. His role is split between the more mature Nick narrating these events in retrospect (Henry van Oosterom) and the real-time Nick (Keelan Kember); an ingenious idea but one that also contains the kernel of the problem, for narrator Nick has the biggest part in the play and his running commentary on action, motivation and characters has a distancing effect. I felt often as if I were peering at the action through a plate-glass window. The sheer volume of narration gave me the feeling I was watching a dramatised reading of the novel rather than an independent drama. In effect we had to be told the story since there was a dearth of the dialogue that would have shown it visually.
A pity, because there was real emotion on display here. I loved one line of endearment from Daisy to Gatsby and its surreal romance. Looking at the sky, she murmurs
"I'd just like to get one of those pink clouds, put you in it and push you around."
This is a slick, confident production from director Dominic Pollard and his crew. The young women look right in flapper period dresses, the minimalist set with just a chaise longue, a couple of cabinets, a hat stand and a wind-up gramophone consists of little but suggests quite a lot, and the specially composed, passably jazzy score from Alex Cowan and Rachel Lewzey is fun if occasionally allowed to hamper the actors’ audibility. Percy Stubbs made of Gatsby a warm, attractive figure whose easy smile yet hinted at inner torment, and Henry van Oosterom’s casual movement and pleasing speaking voice made the most of his commentator’s part. Hannah Schofield had the underwritten role of Daisy and was credibly passionate yet ultimately doomed, though both she and Charlie Vaughan were a little inclined in their big outburst to gabble.