There’s no denying that The Great Gatsby is enjoying more popularity than it ever has since its publication. The Baz Luhrmann adaptation last summer wasn’t so much a film as a cultural event (US media covered it breathlessly, right down to the production of the soundtrack) and perhaps marked the apotheosis of the worldwide Gatsby obsession. But one need look no further than Lady Edith’s new flapper wardrobe on Downton Abbey to know that the 1920s, and, almost synonymously, Gatsby, are still hot.
This adaptation at the Simpkins Lee Theatre (directed by Dominic Pollard) comes as a breath of fresh air after the prerequisite novel and film. What’s worth noting first and foremost is the treatment of Fitzgerald’s prose in the stage adaptation. While it’s easy to miss a beautiful sentence even on the original page, and where the Luhrmann film often buries the prose beneath miles of technicolor, this script allows Fitzgerald’s writing to command the stage with all of its power.
That said, it’s important to appreciate that the beauty of that prose isn’t only contained in words, but in the overwhelming emotion that saturates the novel. Any adaptation of Gatsby must capture the teenage ecstasy and agony, and since a stage version is hard-pressed to dazzle with daring coupe races, elaborate parties, and special effects as a film can, there’s extra pressure.
This Gatsby both shines and struggles to evoke those emotions. Some errors will be easily mended Charlie Vaughan as Tom Buchanan comes off more coolly menacing than as a swaggering tower of American entitlement, giving the character the flavor of a Bond villain. Elsewhere, the older Nick Carraway manages to keep in touch well with both the emotions of the story as well as his darker present self. Most importantly, he’ll allow you to forget about Tobey MacGuire in the same role, both an achievement and a public service. Kimberley Sadovich as Jordan Baker also seems comfortable in her role – she projects all of the lithe, lissome elegance and insecurity that character deserves. Hannah Schofield as Daisy, however, struggles to emote that same insecurity, which should border on psychosis. Daisy, as Hannah told me afterwards, isn’t easy to like. She is a hard character precisely because she manages to be both unlikeable and pitiful at the same time, the willing victim of her own naïveté. However, the depth and intensity of Daisy’s impossible desire to have it both ways too often feels flat.
In interviews afterwards, all the cast agreed on one thing: even ninety years after its publication, The Great Gatsby is a piece for the modern day. Answers ranged amongst the cast from the cautionary tale of excess, the show-stopping extravagance, or just the captivating nature of Jay Gatsby himself. Director Dominic Pollard said that “the show doesn’t rely on elaborate staging but instead conveys the excess and privilege of the time through the combination of the prose and acting performances.” For whatever reason, Gatsby has touched a modern nerve and for this reason this adaptation is a worthwhile exploration of the original prose.
The Great Gatsby will be showing at the Simpkins Lee Theatre, LMH, Wednesday to Saturday of 6th week. Tickets are £7 each, or £5 for students.