There is something to be said about the skill it takes to adapt a famous novel, such as The Great Gatsby, produce it in an intimate space and create a piece of theatre so fresh and innovative that it succeeds where big budget films have failed in the past.
From the moment you are seated in the speakeasy that is Lunar Park, with a rope of pearls carelessly strewn across your table, you are transported into the privileged and careless world of Gatsby, a glorious play with music based on F Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel.
What comes through in this superb production is the intelligence of this ensemble cast, along with the guidance of director Linnie Reedman, in teasing out a fresh understanding of its characters – enhanced by an array of knock-out song and dance numbers brilliantly performed on a small stage indeed.
When Daisy Buchanan (Cressida Bonas) walks into Luna Park asking for Gatsby, it is as if we are meeting a young Blanche DuBois, but one who lacks the courage of Blanche. She is a hesitant Daisy, a trait that will determine the trajectory of her life. Arguably, in Bonas’ portrayal, we have the Daisy that Fitzgerald intended, not the languid, ethereal and unintentionally irresponsible version we’ve met in previous Hollywood films, but a cowardly Daisy – one whose life is in the control of family, circumstance and men – a fully developed character that reveals what lies beyond a ‘voice full of money’.
Shrouded in the harsh light of memory, the play works backwards to re-tell the story of the encounter between Daisy and Jay Gatsby and the more dynamic relationship between Daisy and her husband, Tom Buchanan (Bradley Clarkson). From the second we meet Tom we understand he is a man of killer instincts. Unlike the other Jazz Age characters in this vapid world of the nouveau-riche, Tom knows he is like crude oil, unrefined and reeking of impurities but, oh, the value of the stuff. Daisy recognises it – perhaps Tom embodies the brute courage that she lacks.
Certainly, Gatsby is not Tom’s match. As with the character of Daisy, this production introduces us to a fresh interpretation of Gatsby (Ludovic Hughes), who is played with the air of someone who grew up as the runt of the litter in a rather large household populated with six or seven brats.
Ludovic’s Gatsby is still scrapping for recognition, desperate to throw off the yoke of ordinariness – the second we meet Gatsby we understand that he is in the clutches of defeat.
In fact, there is a new spin on all the characters. Nick Carraway (Morgan Val Baker) is no longer a squeaky clean narrator, he’s a bit shifty, and slightly suspect with a Josh Brolin air that makes you think he secretly despises this Roaring Twenties jet set. Jordan Baker (Ellen Francis) has just the right mixture of sex appeal, boredom, and panache, while Myrtle Wilson (Lauren Chinery) is her chilling opposite, much closer to Daisy in showing us what happens when you allow your life to be controlled by men. Myrtle is locked in by her husband George (Paul Tonkin), whose fury and control is completely relatable to 21st Century relationships. There is also an effective doubling up of characters, but you won’t recognise this immediately, another skillful aspect of the piece.
Finally, all the actors sing and dance up a storm to Joe Evans’ brilliant music and lyrics. Gatsby – don’t miss it.
Review by Loretta Monaco
Gatsby, presented by Ruby in the Dust An intimate and enveloping play with music inspired by F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel Music and Lyrics by Joe Evans | Book by Linnie Reedman
The Lounge at Leicester Square Theatre is transformed into a speakeasy where the Jazz age is in full swing and, two years after the events of the book, a haunted Meyer Wolfshiem is forced down memory lane by a mysterious young woman asking after Gatsby. Cressida Bonas stars as Daisy Buchanan opposite Ludovic Hughes’ Gatsby in this
intimate and atmospheric evening.
The year is 1925. New York is under the siege of Prohibition, and Speakeasy’s are the place to be, and to be seen. Except for Meyer Wolfshiem’s ‘Luna Park’, which has been shut down for two years after he received the “biggest shock of his life”. When he finally opens the doors again – a young woman walks in asking after “Gatsby”. What secrets are stirred as she is forced to confront the past she’s been trying to escape?
In Gatsby’s ‘Speakeasy’, F Scott Fitzgerald’s fantastical characters play out the drama, the wry humour and the tragedy of the novel. Audiences are invited to dress up, sip cocktails and immerse themselves in the dreams, the glamour, the magic and the excess, and ultimately the tragedy of this iconic story.
Leicester Square Theatre, in the Lounge
Address: 6 Leicester Pl, London WC2H 7BX
Phone: 020 7734 2222
Play dates: 10 Dec 2016 to 15 Jan 2017
Times: Tuesday through Sunday at 7pm.
Saturday, Sunday matinee: 3pm