Any film or play of The Great Gatsby must first and foremost look right. The novel is full of such vivid images- perfect of course for the theatre- that you have to get the aesthetic right. I loved the choice of the white windows with gauzy curtains, the famous backdrop to when we first meet Daisy. It looked clean and fresh; very Daisy-ish and Gatsby-ish.
Though I suppose before I throw around character names, I should give a quick primer to the Great American Novel. Our narrator 29-year-old Nick Carraway (Toby Foster) buys a house on trendy West Egg (a fictional place in Long Island). His next door neighbour Jay Gatsby (Connor Charles Quinn) is a mysterious millionaire who throws great parties but doesn't enjoy any of them. Over on East Egg lives Nick's beautiful cousin Daisy Buchanan (Becky Gibbs) and her brutish husband Tom (Andy Jeffs). Gatsby and Daisy were in love five years ago, when he was a soldier and she was eighteen and fresh-faced. Of course it's no coincidence that Gatsby lives just across a stretch of water from her, but can Gatsby really rekindle the past?
What directors (and adaptors) Luke Ofield and Pip O'Neill do most successfully is to emphasise the unity of the novel's construction. In other words, they're good at pairs, showing each main couple as the male and female embodiment of each other. Daisy and Gatsby are equally childlike and dreamy; Tom and his mistress Myrtle (Danielle Boyle) are equally vulgar; and Nick and Jordan (Belinda-Jane Duffy), who seem like a very odd couple in the book, actually share a love of gossip and narratives. It fitted well with their streamlined version; the only way to get all the depths of the novel across would have been to go the Gatz route. The characters all nicely fit with the novel as well; there was no glaring moment when a character was nothing like their novel counterpart (although Meyer Wolfsheim is slightly less Jewish then the novel). Quinn downplayed the mysterious quality of Gatsby but he played Gatsby's childishness very well. At Daisy and Gatsby's first re-meeting, they are like children running around a nice big house. There was a lovely bit of lighting in this scene as Nick sits awkwardly outside in the rain. As a narrator character, Foster mostly gets to say what happens in the story, but this scene was nicely done as Nick realises that he will always be the observer. And in a way Foster is the anchor of the play, making sure that the story moves along. In an added framing device, he tells the story to a young woman; a much better device than Baz Luhrman's unsubtle 'Nick goes to rehab and tells the shrink about his troubles'.
As well as the supposedly 'ideal' couples, you have the people they're actually with (in Nick and Jordan's case, that's as Gatsby and Daisy's friends respectively). I liked how Jeffs played Tom's relationship with Daisy; kind of like a brutish father in the sense that he treats Daisy as the child she behaves like. For practical reasons we don't see Daisy's young daughter; potentially the stem of Daisy's mental fragility but it works fine. Daisy is often played as excessively neurotic and abused but I think Gibbs' focus on Daisy's childishness is a refreshing change. Dressed solely in white, she looks fresh and young; just like the kind of past love somebody might want to get back. And of course it's perfect for Quinn's boy-like Gatsby; like two lost children, childishly fixated by their own feelings and desires and unaware of the impact of their accidents. There is a particular 'accident' that those familiar with the novel or film will know and will be curious to see how Ofield and O'Neill managed to stage it. Without wanting to give any spoilers, the nature of the accident may be unclear to those unfamiliar with the story but it conveys the sensation effectively.
But alongside all those beautiful period dresses (any one of which I would have begged, borrowed or stolen to have had) and lush pastels is the miserable slum-land of the Valley of Ashes, lying in-between the Eggs. The chorus now swap their dresses for overalls, sweeping, rolling cans, completely consumed by the drudgery of their work and depressed by its necessity. No wonder Myrtle dresses like a tart. Again, there's a nice use of colours for the party guests here; bright red for Myrtle and bright colours for everyone else. There's even a humorous version of a 1920's selfie. Readers of the novel will know that this section has a bit of a homoerotic undertone. Whilst I do love it in the novel, I see how it could have been distracting in the play version, reducing Nick's affection for Gatsby's childlike charms to merely fancying him. Not helped by the fact that Gatsby wears a pink suit, which in the novel represents a sort of eccentricity but in the eyes of a less analytical viewer may be a bit of a question mark.
Music-wise, it's a mix of twenties and the Baz Luhrman way of adding twenties beats into modern music. Ideally I would have liked more twenties music but the modern music they do choose fits with the choreography and gets the audience in that swinging party spirit. It did make me get the urge to join in on stage or at least hope that this will catch on in The Venue. One nice touch they do do with the music is have Daisy sing 'St James Infirmatory' to herself; the Louis Armstrong original is repeated in one of the tragic ending scenes. Also, Freya Bellow as a singer at Gatsby's party has a nice jazzy voice.
The Great Gatsby is such a devilishly simple-yet-complex, superficial-yet-deep novel that you can't create a definitive version of it. All you can really do is add another piece to the puzzle. The final scene with the cast all gathered together as Nick delivers the famous closing lines is beautifully done: "It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.... And one fine morning — So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Of course it's one of Fitzgerald's best, if rather depressing, meditations on the struggle of having to move on but it also reflects a generation saying goodbye to the good times. And in an odd way, it reflects the problem of never being able to create a definitive adaptation of Gatsby. I think the childlike delight of this version and its gorgeous aesthetics draw you into the era and this charm makes T24's version a nice little piece.