first night

The Great Gatsby

Max Lindon watches CTC's adaptation of a classic novel.

 It was always going to be a very difficult task for Castle Theatre Company to adapt one of the greatest novels in the American canon for the stage. Even so, I felt that this production fell short on a number of levels, most significantly the script. In a preview interview with Palatinate , writer Nick Chapman said of the story: ‘it’s really all about Tom and Daisy’. In my opinion this is a fundamental misinterpretation of The Great Gatsby , which should be focused on the arc of the title character rather than two ciphers who merely serve as the basis for a critique of the indolent rich.

Another bizarre decision was to give perhaps the most famous narrator in modern literature, Nick Carraway, absolutely no narrating to do. Instead, exposition was provided by awkward duologues between Nick (Owen Sparkes) and other characters such as Jordan Baker (Natasha Yadav), and Tom Buchanan (Ed Rees). These duologues often felt unnatural, a notable example being when Tom was left to deliver a speech describing the Valley of Ashes, with Fitzgerald’s poetic language appearing completely incongruous with Tom’s character. Without any access to his internal monologue, Nick’s character of an introverted observer was completely lost, despite a spirited, if slightly over-mannered performance from Sparkes.

In the aforementioned preview, Chapman also stated that: ‘the script really brings out parts of the book that are maybe a little bit too subtle for an audience to read.’ However, I found Chapman’s desire to impress these themes on the audience led to repetition, with seemingly endless references to ‘The Green Light’ and the watching eyes of T.J. Eckleburg, which deprived them of their subtlety and impact.

With a run-time just shy of three hours, many scenes felt superfluous, such as those between Myrtle (Carrie Gaunt) and George Wilson (Wesley Milligan), which never appeared in the original novel. By contrast, more important scenes, such as the party at Myrtle’s sister’s house, felt far too brief. This was a shame as in the novel it was a vital scene in establishing Nick’s status as being ‘within and without’. Also unnecessarily extending the length of the play were that typical reviewer’s bugbear, the scene changes. It almost seems cliché to say that they halted the dramatic momentum of the play, but considering the audience was left in darkness for over a minute on several occasions I think it is justified.

The Great Gatsby was not without redeeming features. It included a deft performance from Theodore Holt-Bailey as Gatsby, who was successful in portraying the dual nature of his character as both powerfully charismatic and cripplingly insecure. In the climactic moments of the play he was impressive, but let down by a less convincing performance by Rees as Tom Buchanan. Tom’s big moments all felt underwhelming, Rees unfortunately couldn’t convey his character’s anger effectively and this prevented the climactic scenes of the play from achieving their full potential.

Other commendable aspects of the production included the live jazz band, although the actors could have done more to project their voices when the band was playing given the tricky acoustics of the Great Hall. Actors such as Meg Osborne, Honor Webb and Lucy Brierley had extremely limited stage time, but they showed great improvisational skills in conversing with the audience members in character prior to the performance. I was also highly impressed by the consistent quality of the American accents throughout the show, which fitted in very nicely with the Jazz Age setting.

Overall, Chapman should be credited for taking on such a challenging piece of writing for a theatrical adaptation, but I fear that he has drunk from a poisoned chalice on this occasion.

20 February 2016

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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