Review: The Great Gatsby. Nottingham New Theatre

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four star

In a move away from the usual Nottingham New Theatre studio space the audience are taken over to another small studio location in the depths of the Nottingham University Trent building. It almost feels as if this reviewer is being conveyed, through the cold night air, to one of Jay Gatsby’s exuberant parties. The fellow – party-going – audience are mostly a lively student group of ‘bright young things’ keen to visit The Great Gatsby himself.

This fine and voguish production of F Scott Fitzgerald’s luminous novel, The Great Gatsby, is adapted by Laura Jayne Bateman who also directs and choreographs. Bateman has lifted the spoken and descriptive text direct from the novel to bring the story to the stage for this seventy minute one act play. The classic advice in theatre writing where the dramatic form is preferred to the narrative form is ‘show – don’t tell’. However, in this production Bateman and her team of five actors bring alive the The Great Gatsby story through an intelligently thought out blend of both forms with a third discipline of stylised movement including excellently executed jazz dance. The actors feel and look very natural as they dance together in syncopated rhythm visually heightened through strobe lighting. The theatrical use of moving silhouettes behind a rectangular screen – stage right – adds a further dimension to the story telling. This is especially so when the actions of absent characters are referred to. Lighting director James Fox’s work really enhances the way the play looks in this small studio space. Gus Herbert adds a fluid technical balance as technical director.

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The piece uses 1920s jazz influenced music by James Berry and Parov Stelar. This is used not only for the dance aspects but also as a musical undercurrent enhancing mood and pace throughout some of the spoken text. Authentic period costuming by Vintage Years adds real glitz and glamour to this production of The Great Gatsby. If it were less richly costumed the play wouldn’t have as much impact in the important story-line division of the rich and poor.

One has to admire the dedication and work of three particular actors in The Great Gatsby all of whom have had major roles in the Nottingham New Theatre’s very recent production of Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge. Considering that Nick Gill, Ben Standish and Harry Bradley are university students, their commitment to two laudable theatre productions and their own academic course work in a short time is truly commendable.

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Standish is matinee idol personified with his slicked black hair, poise and quiet confidence as the super rich Jay Gatsby. Many of his lines are punctuated with “Old Sport” and his character’s often over riding words assume a superiority hidden behind a charming smile whilst hiding a publicly unknown past connected to his sudden riches.

Nick Gill as narrator and Gatsby neighbour Nick Carraway softly dominates the show bringing the same confidence and style to this character as he did as the lawyer Alfieri in A View From The Bridge. The difference is, the role of Nick Carraway is less cut throat and more deceptive as it moves around the emotional spectrum – one moment he is admiring and in awe of Gatsby – the next declaring an instant personal hate from the very beginning. He is oblique in his wry observations of the love triangles that happen around him which conflicts with a personal blindness in his own besotted lust for the untrustworthy Jordan Baker.

Libby Boyd is a sardonically and cynically-stronger socialite Daisy Buchanan here than we are used to seeing as brittlely portrayed on the cinema screen. Her character’s strength makes her more credible in her actions in leaving the arms of Gatsby albeit reluctantly going back to her bigoted and womanising husband Tom Buchanan played as gloriously immoral, racist and horribly blunt by vocally strong Harry Bradley.

Completing the cast is Becca Jones as the ravishingly beautiful but ultimately dishonest Jordan Baker – a competitive golfer and illusive romantic social butterfly for the smitten Nick Carraway. Jones brings all of Baker’s flaws to the front whilst maintaining a high maintenance profile as one of the ‘new women’ of the 1920s. Myrtle and George Wilson appear as referred to through the narrative or quickly personified by the actors.

To sum up, an excerpt from the programme notes concludes that; The Great Gatsby is a timeless story, but feels particularly meaningful today amongst the continued rise of consumerism, capitalism and xenophobia. Once again the rich become richer and poor more impoverished.

This reviewer feels the very much the ‘richer’ for having witnessed this terrific student production full of intelligent and mature performances from the Nottingham New Theatre company.

Nottingham New Theatre are planning to take this production to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2016 and should stand a very strong chance of winning plaudits and prizes if the standard remains as high as this showing.

Originally posted on 7 Dec for The Reviews Hub.

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