Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Great Gatsby Musical - Review

King's Head Theatre, London

****
Music by Joe Evans

Lyrics by Joe Evans and F. Scott Fitzgerald

Book by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Directed by Linnie Reedman



Matilda Sturridge as Daisy Buchanan
The Great Gatsby Musical is an enjoyable  piece of theatre. Linnie Reedman presents F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American tale of interwar decadence in a delightful flurry of frocks, charlestons, and mint juleps.  Be warned though, this show fillets the tale to its barest bones and for the audience to keep up with the show's pace, particularly in Act 2, a pre-knowledge of the original story is advised.
Whilst the production as a whole is pleasing on the eye, as a musical it is a work in progress. Joe Evans, is being grandiose when he refers to lyrics having been written by both himself and Fitzgerald. The story’s author wrote exquisite prose so I suspect he is spinning in his grave at the chorus of Evans’ composition You Cannot Live Forever simply being those four words repeated incessantly. The musical is set in the Jazz Age, but the melodies as they stand are shallow, with insufficient acknowledgment of say the wonderful Gershwin-esque sounds of the time, which would have enhanced the show’s sound. It is also a disappointment that the arrangements have not found room for any brass, as an occasional muted trumpet could have evoked both time and place. Evans also denies large swathes of Act 2 any song or music whatsoever, notably the New York hotel room denouement. If this show is to succeed as a musical it needs bigger numbers to portray the maelstrom of emotion and revelation that Fitzgerald created. As it stands, this production is more of a play with songs and music, rather than a musical.
The show’s strengths are undoubtedly within its casting. As Gatsby, Sean Browne evokes the coolness and sham-mystique of the protagonist, skilfully. Gatsby was an Allen Stanford of his day, with a fortune built on shaky and immoral foundations. Browne nailed the nervous under-statement that evolves into defiance, superbly.
Opposite Browne, Matilda Sturridge is an exquisitely delicate Daisy Buchanan, in love with Gatsby whilst trapped in a loveless marriage to Tom. It is remarkable to learn that this marks Sturridge’s professional stage debut as her almost innate ability to portray the subtlest of Daisy’s nuances with simply a glance or a tilt of her head are masterful and belie her youth. Her father Charles directed the television epic Brideshead Revisited some 30 odd years ago, in which her mother Phoebe Nicholls featured, portraying the same decadent years albeit from this side of the Atlantic. One cannot help but feel that the young Sturridge has been well counselled to play such a classic character from that era.
Also worthy of mention are Peta Cornish who plays flapper Jordan Baker delightfully and Jon Gabriel Robbins, whose portrayal of the cuckolded George Wilson is a clever study in stifled rage, frustration and humiliation. Steven Clarke too, as the philandering Tom is convincing as an uncaring, racist, old money WASP.   Raphael Verrion delivers rather a journeyman performance as Nick Carroway. Fitzgerald wrote the book through Nick’s eyes as a narrator, making him critical to the unfolding of the story. That narrative aspect has been largely removed from this production and thus negates Nick’s impact as a character.
Christopher Hone’s economic design cleverly shifts from pool to garage to mansion, and Belle Mundi’s detailed period costumes are a delight. The girls are elegantly dressed and headbanded almost throughout, though one felt at times for Gatsby, sporting a double breasted suit within the scorching heat of the small theatre.
If you have an affinity for the story, then this is a show to see, if only to observe how the Ruby In The Dust company have added some music and song to a well known fable and given it their own unique and stylish interpretation.

Runs to 1st September 2012

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