The Great Gatsby

James Newton from the F Scott Fitzgerald novel
Wardrobe Theatre and Wardrobe Ensemble
The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth

Jesse Meadows and Tamsin Hurtado Clarke Credit: Jack Offord

True to the text and essence of F Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel but compact and inventive, Wardrobe Theatre and Wardrobe Ensemble each celebrate their 10th anniversary with a beautifully crafted collaboration.

Crushed into 90-minutes, Tamsin Hurtado Clarke and Jesse Meadows retell the tale of lost love, hedonism, intrigue, lust and murder chapter by chapter, each heralded by another fortifying snifter.

Pared back with just a sofa, drinks stand and a screen upon which apposite doodles ensure the green light at the end of the Buchanan’s jetty, the ever-watching gaze of T J Eckleburg and the indulgent pursuit of pleasure impress, designer Katie Sykes hits the brief. The settee becomes a horse, the roadway, train, cars and swimming pool while red paper cups double as telephones and represent the casual throwaway world of the monied classes.

And it is not just the props that multi-task: the athletic Hurtado Clarke (writer, director and founder of Popelei Theatre) morphs from strident Tom Buchanan to languorous Jordan Baker to man of mystery, the American Dream personified Jay Gatsby (played here as a rather sweet self-effacing good egg of West Egg) with merely the rake of her shoulders, a toss of her head or adding a jacket while the diminutive Meadows (Education Education Education, RIOT) switches from self-deprecating flawed narrator Nick to fickle Daisy to Mr Wilson to social climber Myrtle by little more than slipping her overshirt from her shoulders or using a voice-changing microphone. Even the conversation between Nick and Daisy is slick and unstrained, shifting from lazing upon the settee to perched on the arm.

Such tiny tweaks and we believe.

Dramaturg James Newton interspaces verbatim text and narrative with punchy action and languid conversation—and it is all there, even at such breakneck speed. Deepraj Singh’s choreography is a delight, change of pace keeps interest and crawling over and around the sofa is fitting while segue from one character to the next, one episodic vignette to another flows superbly.

Tom Brennan’s direction is firm and painstaking. Fun touches—the cast miming lighting fireworks picked up by the sound techs and lighting crew, ingenious use of toy cars, silent argument—lighten the increasing intensity as the tale races inevitably towards its bloody end. It could never be the lavish, populated, partying piece Hollywood has twice produced but plenty here to satisfy and engage.

Most enjoyable.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell

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