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The Great Gatsby

F Scott Fitzgerald, adapted by Peter Joucla
Wilton's Music Hall

Nick Chambers and Vicki Campbell Credit: Michelle Robek
Nick Chambers and Vicki Campbell Credit: Michelle Robek

F Scott Fitzgerald’s timeless novella is charmingly reimagined by director and adaptor Peter Joucla, but the crowning glory of this production is the astonishing setting of the venue.

Wilton’s Music Hall is the oldest surviving Victorian musical hall in the world, and it’s just down the road from Tower Hill tube stop, hidden down a side alley. The Great Gatsby is a revival of the same production which played here just before it closed for desperately-needed renovation works; £1.1 million of fundraising later, the music hall has been restored to useable grandeur.

Whilst the music hall is impressive, Joucla’s production, although ably performed by a company of talented actor-singers, would perhaps not be quite the same if it were playing in a less exceptional venue. The positive attributes are many: there is a fantastic prohibition party vibe (many of the audience have dressed up flapper style) created through a pre-show mingling with actors in character and the inclusion of a cappella songs, which aid transition through scenes, means that interest is maintained.

Stand-out performances are from Vicki Campbell playing nonchalant golf champion Jordan Baker, but somewhat disappointingly Gatsby (Kyle Redmond-Jones) is not quite mysterious enough, neither does he manage to convey Gatsby’s single-minded passion and hopeless idealism which compels him to buy into the pre-Depression era madness in order to win back his Daisy (Eleanor Howell) from her richer-than-rich sports star husband Tom (Christopher Bandon).

The magic of Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby comes from his hazy, hot, languid descriptions of West and East Egg and the overwhelming sense of dust, sweat and a bubble waiting to burst. Joucla’s production focuses on the absurdity of the characters but does so in a more slapstick kind of way, so that we miss out on the oozing boredom of the rich folk like Daisy and Tom and are denied a stronger sense of Gatsby’s eternal separation from this world.

What is very effectively emphasised is the lack of control that women had over their own destinies; Daisy and Myrtle (Rachel Donovan) are shown to be entirely ensnared by male desires and wants. Joucla’s seems to take the spotlight off Gatsby’s story and focuses it instead on Tom and Daisy Buchanan; also more front and centre is the relationship between Nick and Jordan which is not so defined in Fitzgerald’s original text.

Wilton’s Music Hall is in the final stages of its renovation; there is a further £300,000 to go in order to ensure that they can convert the attached cottages into studio spaces which enable them to increase their outreach work and ability to explore newer writing. This venue frames this production of The Great Gatsby in a way which no other could; it absolutely deserves to be discovered by the rest of London.

Reviewer: Anna Jones