Wait for ages? Buses? With the removal of copyright protection from F Scott Fitzgerald’s epic novel, we’re about to be bombarded by a – what IS the collective noun for multiple Gatsbys – a clutch, a slew, a bootleg-full? They’re all appropriate to this enduring story of a showman and playboy from the prohibition era, and his hapless pursuit of first love Daisy Buchanan.
Some say things are best left alone citing the original perfection of the novel. Certainly Baz Luhrmann’s remake of the impeccable 1974 Jack Clayton movie which opens here on Boxing Day has big shoes to fill, DiCaprio replacing Redford and Carey Mulligan supplanting Mia Farrow. But before that, London can expect three June performances by New York Public Theater’s Elevator Repair Service company of ‘Gatz’ an 8-hour Oberammergau-styled marathon with an extended meal break, at the Noel Coward theatre. The other side of the Olympics, there’s a more compact musical version at the King’s Head, a ‘world premiere’ no less, from 7 August.
There’s music in the Wilton’s version too. When not portraying the principal characters, all eight actors don thick round glasses to identify themselves as the vocal backing group, singing a capella a whole lot of vo-do-de-oh-doh with very nice harmonies and some basic Charleston stepping. Unfortunately, as part of the immersive experience which fills the whole of Wilton's from the Green Room to the Chapel of Rest, in the interval and after the show the London Dixieland Jazz Band and a quartet of brilliant dancers provide the sort of display which contrasts the lack of band and full-on dance numbers in this ‘jazz’ Gatsby.
The acting’s mostly good – Michael Malarkey is a suave and covert Jay Gatsby, Christopher Brandon puts all the stuffing into Tom Buchanan’s city shirt, and Kirsty Besterman’s vitreous Daisy is far less waif-like than many interpretations: more Shirley MacLaine than Mia Farrow.
We didn’t really have to get our A-level notebooks out to remember that The Great Gatsby is riddled with symbolism – at least two essays’ worth – for the collapse of the American Dream, the widening chasm between the haves and have-nots as the US heads into the Depression, the helpless dependency of the poor on religious symbols, and over all of them the green light on Daisy’s dock representing Gatsby’s hopes and dreams for the future. Although ambitious, Peter Joucla’s production doesn’t convey these meanings, and for those who loved the movie or the book, something may be lost.
Without giving too much away, there’s an important accident which due to the budget has to take place offstage and an incident with a gun which was feeble enough to cause laughter at what could have been a moment of real tension. But with the jazz band in the bar, the dancers in the attic, a liberal supply of Hendricks’ and tonic from a fountain in the foyer attended by living bronzed naiads and Wilton’s filled to overflowing with people visibly enjoying themselves in their '20s Oxfam finery, such details can be overlooked and this really was a fine night out.
The Great Gatsby continues at Wilton’s until 19 May but all performances are sold out. Try 020 7702 2789 for cancellations. JohnnyFox received free tickets, programme and Hendricks G&T from the generous team at Wilton’s.