Gatsby

We are unimpressed by an over-ambitious staging of The Great Gatsby.

american dream downing gatsby play

Howard Theatre, Downing, 7.30 PM, February 20th-22nd, £6/5.

Any attempt to put Gatsby onstage is ambitious, and sadly this adaptation failed to excite or inspire. This production missed the mark, both as a homage to the literature on which it is based, and, more crucially, as a play in its own right.

Gatsby demands decadence, demands a grotesque excess of beautiful things which is well beyond the budget of an ADC mainshow, let alone a college level production. Visible grandiosity needed to be substituted and painted in the minds of the audience by flair and conviction on the part of actors capable of suspending disbelief. However, instead of stripping back the stage to allow an imagined lavishness to blossom and explode, this production became almost a parody of itself in its use of props. The dog Myrtle (Ellie Beveridge) desires Tom (Ben Brodie) to buy is a small plush toy selected from a cardboard box containing two others, whilst Gatsby’s (Sean Flynn) indecently large collection of expensive shirts is manifested in just four, brought onstage in a crumpled pile. Daisy’s (Eleanor Colville) despair upon having ‘never seen so many beautiful shirts’, admittedly an incredibly difficult moment to translate successfully from the novel, becomes awkwardly, unintentionally funny due to a clash between emotional overstatement and visual understatement.

gatsby_Landscape

Awkwardness was indeed a problem throughout this production of Gatsby: emotional connection between characters was virtually non-existent; lines were rarely delivered in quick enough succession and often lacked a sense of spontaneity; and any physical contact between characters always felt unnatural and stilted. At one point, Myrtle sits on Tom’s lap, and, despite our not being able to see their faces, it is blatantly, painfully obvious that their kissing is mimed. Whilst at moments Flynn as Gatsby had impressive stage presence, his portrayal of the eponymous character was often too affected and awkward to convince us of Gatsby’s capacity to charm.

One scene which genuinely did build up some dramatic tension was that in which Tom and Gatsby fight over Daisy’s affection: energy lacking elsewhere in the play was allowed to build up, delivery of lines was rapidly paced, and I felt myself genuinely, if briefly, falling into the scene. The play was at its best when focussed on the creation dynamism through its words.

Issy Gately’s adaptation of Gatsby was ambitious, but in its realisation was as misguided as Gatsby’s own unyielding vision, and created not a portrayal but a parody of a tragedy in the face of the American Dream.