Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Gatsby: the name is synonymous with glamour, the roaring ‘20s, extravagant excess, wealth, parties, hedonism, flowing alcohol, the power to turn dreams into reality, and the sense of a lost time. It also signifies a story of dashed ambition and tragedy. EUTCO’s production of The Great Gatsby at the Northcott, adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American classic, drew out these tensions thoughtfully and impressively. Published in 1925, Fitzgerald’s novel has undergone a whole new revival with the onset of the 2020s. Mimi Templar Gay’s direction produced a play which encouraged its audience to reflect on its relevance to our present time, particularly in light of its pervasive concerns with money, success and what it means to be fortunate.
The plot centres on the upper echelons of society in Long Island and the tensions between the old and new rich. We follow Nick Carraway, a bonds salesman, and his developing friendship with Jay Gatsby – his enigmatic neighbour who gradually shares stories of his rise to prominence, throws legendary parties, and whose love for Daisy Buchanan leads to his downfall. The play opened with the chorus gliding onto the stage, dazzling us with their energy, sparkling costumes, fantastic choreography (particularly their Charleston dance sequences!), frequently brilliant comic timing, and desperation to gain access to Gatsby’s famous parties. However, there were times when it felt that performers were fighting the volume of the music to be heard.
Ollie Harvey Piper’s refreshingly thoughtful and sensitive performance as Nick Carraway, the outside observer and narrator figure, was outstanding. Complimenting this, Macauley Keeper subtly conveyed Jay Gatsby’s over-deliberate self-fashioning, his composure, and indulgence in fabricated stories which become less believable as the façade Gatsby so carefully curates begins to falter – Keeper’s delivery of “old sport” increasingly carries an impression that Gatsby is clinging to his curated persona. Liv Koplick perfectly captured the essence of Fitzgerald’s Daisy in all her complexity.
Some of the play’s most beautiful moments were the elongated eye contact Daisy and Gatsby share after being apart for years (the stillness in the audience was palpable), and later their impulsive kiss when her husband is only in the next room. A mention should also go to Charlie Howard’s portrayal of the “hulking” bully Tom Buchanan who swaggers around, spews a eugenical tirade and abuses Daisy. The spotlighting of monologues particularly helped with the development of Myrtle Wilson, played by Chrissy Butler, who becomes an ever more pitiful and tragic character, brutalised by the two men who try to control her, ultimately pushing her towards tragedy. Rosin McCay portrayed a confident and aloof Jordan Baker – an unconventional New Woman who gains prestige through becoming a famous golfer, drives, smokes, wears a dashing gingham trouser and waistcoat set, and acts openly on her desires. I particularly loved the touch of including her secret kiss with a woman at one of Gatsby’s parties. Fraser Brown’s portrayal of George Wilson was also particularly emotive towards the play’s end. Nevertheless, American accents occasionally slipped, which brought us out of the American context temporarily.
Photo Credit: Eleanor Webster
The production team did a fantastic job with the set, especially with the effect of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s eyes which looked down on the characters like green Orwellian, Big Brother-esque eyes. This menacing visual highlighted the distinct impression that characters never had complete privacy onstage. The symbolic keyhole which acted as a doorway into different spaces effectively symbolised how characters search for the key to access truth, and enter the upper societal circles epitomised by Daisy and Gatsby. Most of all, I loved the effect of the transparent hanging curtain through which the famous green light shines. When performers stood behind the curtain, acting out stories told by characters spotlighted further downstage, this created beautifully artistic silhouettes of their figures. The music choices were atmospheric and consistently contributed to the creation of different energies throughout the performance.
The use of a largely black and green colour palette with accents of gold and sparkle effectively communicated the play’s darker elements and its concern with envy. Green is also the colour of money – a key theme of the narrative which is explored through the desire for it, mysteries around how it is accumulated, who has ownership of it and how it is spent. In Gatsby’s world money is excessive, damaging and enables the rich to evade justice, as is highlighted by the play’s denouement.
The play ended with the novel’s parting words as Nick Carraway prophetically notes that we’re all like Gatsby in a way: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The line is a poetic diamond and Ollie Harvey Piper delivered it faultlessly, pulling it back from the edge of cliché so that it resounded profoundly with us all, bearing us back to the past whilst encouraging us to reflect on the present.
Buy your tickets before they sell out – this is a treat not to be missed!
The Great Gatsby continues to be performed at Exeter Northcott until Saturday 18th.
Featured Image Credit: Daiki Shinomiya
In-text Photo Credits: SouthWest Theatre Photography