Georgie Bolwell attended Theatr Clwyd’s version of F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and found the interactive elements invigorated the classic story of 1920s New York.
Alexander Wright’s interactive version of The Great Gatsby is a refreshing take on the original novel that seeks to draw the audience into the past and allow them to be part of the action. Co-produced by Theatr Clwyd and the Guild of Misrule, who brought together a fantastic cast, this particular iteration of Wright’s play is performed in the run-down, disused Dolphin hotel on Mold high street. An unconventional, and not to mention cold, location for the play, the venue was nevertheless excellent, providing unique opportunities for the use of lighting, sound, and staging, all of which were used to great effect. This wonderful adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel was, overall, a success.
Begun and ended with that most memorable quote from the book, the audience is a boat ‘against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past’, clientele at a drug-store speakeasy in the roaring ’20s. In the ‘present’, Wright’s play introduces Nick Carroway, an strange character who is convinced that his one true virtue is honesty. With his first monologue, Michael Lambourne as Carroway turns back the clock further and reveals a snapshot of the lives of Jay Gatsby, enigmatic millionaire, and the love of his life, Daisy Buchanan. As Gatsby and Daisy are reunited and fall in love once more, the supporting actors in the story move around them, weaving a tale of deceit and falsehood through which the young Carroway’s honesty fights to shine. Starting as light-hearted and fun, the carefully constructed social lives of the characters quickly unravel and are left in ruins.
Set up rather like a murder mystery event, the audience mills around the old hotel watching pieces of the story unfold, the actors joining them and drawing them into the action. Each character was played with alacrity by the cast, but in particular Michael Lambourne’s performance as Nick Carroway was quite something. His unique charisma brought much needed comic relief to some scenes and strengthened the drama in others. He is an accomplished actor. All the actors handled the unpredictability of the evening well, directing the audience to follow one character up the stairs, while others were encouraged to remain and listen to a song, to dance the Charleston, or to witness a tête-à-tête between Tom, Daisy’s husband, and his mistress, Myrtle Wilson. The lack of a typical stage and wings made it necessary for the script to rely rather heavily on narration at times. For the most part though, this did not diminish the performance, rather it enhanced it. Indeed, the emotional conclusion of the play was made all the more heart-breaking for the resigned and quiet way it was relayed by Lambourne.
The hotel was rather cold and this did, at times, detract from the story. It is, for instance, rather hard to join in with the actors and Charleston while wearing your outdoor coat. What’s more, though the story itself and the way it is portrayed by the cast is very engaging, those unfamiliar with the text would be less able to fully enjoy and become part of the performance. The overall performance and story is indeed entertaining, but key details were lost as some audience members were never shown certain portions of the performance. In addition, while the actors did their utmost to project their conversations above the noise of the surrounding crowd, bits of dialogue were missed in the general chatter between ‘scenes’, which made aspects of the play hard to follow.
For the most part, the play was thoroughly enjoyable, so much so that the majority of the discomfort from the cold was immaterial. All of the actors, including those playing wait-staff and doormen, drew the audience completely into the story, encouraging everyone to join in as much as they wanted to. However, as a novice coming to the performance, it would have been hard to follow the full story, although all the actors tried very hard to impart as many pieces of information to as many different people as they could. In spite of this, the piece is a hit. It isn’t designed to give a full exposition of Fitzgerald’s novel. Rather, it is intended as a new and fascinating way to experience a much-loved and adapted novel, and as such I can say no more than that it was an unbridled success.
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Georgie Bolwell is a contributor to Wales Arts Review.