by F Scott Fitzgerald.
Noel Coward Theatre St Martin’s Lane WC2N 4RU To 15 July 2012.
Wed, Fri, Sat, Sun 2.30pm.
Runs 8hr 15min Three intervals (including 90min ‘dinner break’ at 6pm).
TICKETS: 0844 482 5141.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 June.
Giving a theatrical lift to summer.
It’s certainly an achievement for New York theatre company Elevator Repair Service. F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby with every word, including “and” and “the”; every “he” and “she said”. Great literature chanced upon in a dog-eared paperback, it transforms the life of a humble office-worker in a shabby, nearly-modern office. Once started, it’s unputdownable. Computer, cordless ‘phone, office documents are ignored for Scott Fitzgerald’s all-consuming words – apparently read in a dry voice that still contains clarity and focus.
The reader’s mind synthesises experience. The external becomes incorporated in Gatsby’s world. Office workers start speaking the characters’ lines. A jazz-age party emerges amid the barren workspace. The person whose return snuffs it out, the dour and dutiful Jim, surprisingly becomes Gatsby.
So, Fitzgerald’s narrator comes centre-stage, as the modern-day Nick explores Fitzgerald’s world. And Gatsby’s no charming film-star hero, but a stiff-mannered outsider, made more awkward by his tall stature. The “old sport” with which Gatsby addresses others signals the nervousness of someone who knows he’ll never belong. A pink suit, matched by a deeper-hued tie that finally seems like a streak of blood, heightens by contrast his doleful manner.
The constant tension between story and stage setting balances the experience on the edge of imagination, the modern props and stark lighting shifts creating a continuum between imagination, fantasy and lie that mirrors the novel’s tragedy of errors and deception.
In six-plus hours there are times where stage action is merely fussy. But far more creates a spell as much through what’s seen as what’s word: the stranger commenting on Gatsby’s library, the cold sitting around in a hotel room, the final quiet dignity of Gatsby’s father, innocently applying greatness to his son as the title’s point kicks you in the teeth.
Why not split a long show over several days? Shared Experience did that in the 1970s with their Bleak House. But Dickens’ novel appeared in instalments. This is a single arc. And by the time Scott Shepherd has given up the pretence of reading, it has taken possession of Nick as this production does of its audience.
Nick: Scott Shepherd.
Jim: Jim Fletcher.
Lucille: Kate Scelsa.
Jordan: Susuie Sokol.
Daisy: Lucy Taylor.
Tom: Robert Cucuzza/Gary Wilmes.
George: Aaron Landsman.
Myrtle: Laurena Allan.
Catherine: Lindsay Hockaday.
Chester: Vin Knight.
Michaelis: Ben Williams.
Ewing: Mike Iveson.
Henry C Gatz.
Director: John Collins.
Designer: Louisa Thompson.
Lighting: Mark Barton.
Sound: Ben Williams.
Costume: Colleen Werthman.
Associate director: Steve Bodow.
Associate lighting: Dans Maree Sheehan.