Tuesday 26 February 2013

The Great Gatsby

Wilton's Music Hall , London


Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Adapted for the stage and directed by Peter Joucla

Eleanor Howell and Kyle Redmond-Jones
The Great Gatsby returns to Wilton’s Music Hall, marking the hall’s recently completed restoration with a revival of the 2012 production, last staged just before the venue closed for repair. Whilst the  impressive auditorium has been mended and plastered, Wilton's remains a work in progress and this underlying sense of chic dilapidation adds a curious sense of credibility to the decaying world in which F. Scott Fitzgerald set his adulterous tale of repressed love in 1920s  New York state.

The staging is simple but inspired. Minimal use of props and effective lighting denote the locations that shift from Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s mansion, to Gatsby’s palatial home across the bay, to the Wilson’s grubby garage. In an inspired move, the parties at Gatsby’s home, attended in the novel by hoardes of vacuous freeloaders, are represented at Wilton’s by the house lights coming up and the cast walking amongst the rows of seats, suggesting that the audience of several hundred are Gatsby’s nameless guests. Music and vocals, either background or period songs are, with the exception of an occasional harmonica, all un-mic’d a-cappella. The cast are vocally excellent, providing an effective occasional musical backcloth that impressively includes even a snatch of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Lead chaacters drop in and out of the ensemble as needed, donning owl-like black rimmed specs, a neat nod to the novel’s description of oculist Dr Eckleburg’s advertising hoarding spectacles, when assuming singing responsibilitites

The cast are grand throughout. As Gatsby, Kyle Redmond-Jones maintains the affected air of the mysterious millionaire perfectly. Looking like a refined Matt Damon, he surveys the crowds at his parties with appropriate aloofness whilst his “old sport” mannerisms are delivered with such clipped yet gentle precision that it easy to understand how Eleanor Howell’s fragile Daisy could be in love with the enigmatic recluse, especially when he is compared to her boorish philandering husband Tom. Howell portrays Daisy’s misery with profound perception and when she speaks of knowing, even on her wedding day, that her marriage to Tom was a loveless void, the sadness is excruciating. Christopher Brandon plays Tom skilfully, without hamming up the bad-guy role, getting the tone of his character’s contemptible racist hypocrisy, just right.

Nick Chambers and Vicki Campbell are respectively Nick, the novel’s narrator and Jordan, Daisy’s long time friend. The role of Nick is particularly challenging, effectively being the lens through which these unhappy vignettes are played out. Chambers though does a good job, adding just enough colour to the part to earn his character some modest sympathy. Campbell is a talented actress who fleshes out her supporting role with a harsh perspective on reality.

The use of the auditorium is clever with action spilling into both gallery and stalls, although a pivotal moment of the storyline, in which an imprisoned Myrtle Wilson spies Tom driving Gatsby's car, is blurred over in the dramatic action of this piece. As is often the case with seeing The Great Gatsby on stage, a familiarity with the story whilst not essential, is encouraged.

Peter Joucla’s direction impresses and the Charleston era is reinforced by Zahra Mansouri’s intelligent costume design that elegantly depict flappers and mobsters whilst avoiding overstatement. This site-specific production is well crafted with a pre-show that kicks off an hour before curtain up in Wilton’s speakeasy bar skilfully setting both time and mood. With period dress encouraged to be worn by the audience, an early arrival is recommended for a show that is yet another example of London’s off-West End excellence.

Runs to 23 March 2013

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