The Great Gatsby

Genre: Musical Theatre

Venue:  Riverside Studios, Crisp Rd, London, W6 9RL.

Low Down

Joe Evan’s music & lyrics and Linnie Reedman’s adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby’s nostalgic view of America between the wars glistens and sparkles with a destructive glory. The tragic love story of rich girl and poor hero works around powerful themes: loyalty and love, faithfulness and betrayal combines with the individual’s pursuit of the American dream for happiness and economic success. The music is dynamic and story is coherently presented beginning from the moment when the pretty socialite, Daisy, and heroic soldier, Jay Gatsby, are separated by war and circumstances. Gatsby’s failure to return to that blissful state culminates with a string of fatal consequences which implicates the other lives on stage.


The central motif in Ruby In The Dust Theatre Company’s Great Gatsby was the way in which the musical was literally created by musicians taking on the different roles in the play:  Naomi Bullock as the earthy Myrtle plays Clarinet, Imogen Daines as Daisy’s loyal friend, Jordan Baker, plays violin/viola/ guitar, Patrick Lannigan as the underworld figure of Meyer Wolfsheim plays double base, Kate Marlais as Catherine, Mytles’s sister, plays violin, Janna Yngwe as the flapper plays cello, Nicholas Waters as George Wilson plays banjo and Henry Wyrley-Birch as multiple characters of waiter and policeman plays the trumpet.

The exception to this dynamic transformation of roles is that of music director, Greg Arrowsmith, and lead characters Daisy played by Matilda Sturridge, Jay Gatsby by Michael Lindall, Nick Carraway by Sid Phoenix and Tom Buchanan by Ian Knauer.

It was less pleasing to see who among them were given musical carriage through the songs. For instance, I thought Nick Carraway as narrator was given too little to sing, particularly since Sid Phoenix seem to possess such a wonderful voice. It also seem odd that the hero Jay Gatsby had NO songs to sing, either on his own to give the audience an insight into his dilemmas, a classic device in musicals for heroes, or share with Daisy.  I remember thinking as Daisy sang her first solo, why is Jay made to just stand around? Why isn’t the song a duet? The role which seems to be the most well balanced between song & spoken part was the role of Daisy’s rich husband, Tom Buchanan: Ian Knauer brings class and polish to the role with a fine voice and his role is well written stylistically.

The weakness of the production was the design of the space. From the start it just looked as though the set was too big for the space. As the show went on I watched actors hit their heads on the low hanging intricate arch that dominated the performance space: taller actors had to bend under the central doorway as they entered onto the stage and every performer seemed forced to manoeuvre around the gigantic sofa placed directly in front of the double door entrance.

Most unfortunate of all, as far as I was concerned, the stunning orchestra and its transformation into various roles in the drama was turned into a group which had to endure making an awkward series of shuffles within a very cramped space. The space also didn’t do anything for the costume designs. They seemed like clumsy overdone dress-ups in which evening dress is worn even in bright daylight.

Yet I could see the effect of the glitz and glamour could work in a space three times the size of the Riverside Studio. This was particularly apparent as the froth and bubbles of Act 1 turns into the tragedy of Act 2 as Myrtle and Jay Gatsby are killed while Daisy and Tom escape their responsibilities towards people they avowed to love.

Yes, The Great Gatsby holds much potential for becoming a really stunning musical.

Reviewed by Dr Josey De Rossi Friday 24 May 2013

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