Stage: Workshop Theatre – The Great Gatsby

Based on the 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby has been adapted by Director Ruth Parker for stage and boldly taken on by Workshop Theatre. Narrated by Nick Carraway, a guest at the enigmatic Jay Gatsby’s parties, the story explores the glamorous lives of several prosperous Americans during the Roaring Twenties, seen as a tale that destabilises the notion of the American Dream.

The layout of the evening was magical, and created a perfect ambience for the performance. The audience was seated on round tables with a bar on either side of the room, and everyone was served a complementary yet unfathomably strong mint julep upon entry. It did indeed feel as though we had been transported back into the vibrant Jazz Age, and perfectly set the scene.

The staging of the production was generally successful in its promenade-style approach, with actors moving around the audience, although it did take a while for us to adjust to the unusual style of staging, with audience members wondering where to direct their attention. After a few scenes the cast had found their feet, and the work was well rehearsed, with the action away from the main dialogue continuing throughout, with equal levels of energy, whilst not detracting from our primary focus. However, there were some slight moments of distraction when background characters made noise and our focus was lost. The lighting was also effective, changing with the scenes of Nick Carraway’s solitary narration to the larger group scenes.

The only problem to be found within this particular rendition of The Great Gatsby was that it felt as though the direction and characterisation was too reminiscent of the 2013 film. The scene in which Gatsby shows Daisy around his house almost entirely imitated the film in its movement and direction, with Gatsby throwing his finest shirts onto the ground below. There is no doubt it was executed very well, but it was a shame to have not pushed the boundaries and taken the script in a new direction.

Innovative music and dance interludes – which could have felt stilted and awkward – were extremely well performed, using the ensemble’s skills in singing and dancing to their advantage. However, the use of music from the 2013 film soundtrack deterred more from the originality of this production. Whilst the staging of this show was unique, dialogue was often lost due to the actors performing with their back to the audience, an effect reinforced by the occasional imbalance of the volume of the production’s music. The piece would perhaps have been better suited to quieter accompanying music.

The play was extremely well cast, and Piers Cottee-Jones and Isobel Taylor Herbert as Gatsby and Daisy shone: Isobel achieving a sublime balance of fragility and strength, in what is a particularly complex role; while the charismatic Piers delivered his lines confidently and with ease, and was a very natural performer to watch.

It is an incredibly bold decision to take on such an infamous piece as The Great Gatsby, because it is still very much in the public’s mind after the success of the recent Hollywood blockbuster. Workshop Theatre gave a commendable, if somewhat predictable performance, and although it did feel like a live version of the film, it exceeded expectations and was overall a very well executed piece of theatre.

Freya Parr

Image: Workshop Theatre

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