Gatsby – Arts Theatre

Gatsby. Picture: Roy Tan

Matilda Sturridge and Ellie Nunn in Gatsby at the Arts Theatre, London. Picture: Roy Tan

Gatsby continues at the Arts Theatre, London until 16 November.

Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩

This musical version of a literary classic returns to the stage for a third outing in as many years, sharing the stage at the Arts Theatre with An American Idiot, where it plays concurrently. With the exception of Matilda Sturridge as Daisy Buchanan, the cast members are all new to their roles, and no longer do they double as band members. The bleak stage setting is now enlivened by the Benoit Viellefon Orchestra, seated in traditional dance band style, who live up to the puff in the programme as musicians of real class, setting the scene with some 1920s standards as the audience take their seats.

In this adaptation the narrator of the novel, Nick Carraway, becomes a character in the story, and a singularly vapid one at that. Despite the author’s assertion that his poetic descriptions immediately translate into song, he has little to sing about. When the moment arrives for him to express his bewilderment in music (‘Your World’), the moment goes for little, the tune he sings is taken by a backing group, and the opportunity to put some flesh on the character, passes by.

There are a further half dozen situations that are crying out for musical treatment which this score fails to address. With the exception of the notable ensemble ‘Who’s the Man’, a quintet where the principal players gossip and question Gatsby’s credentials, Joe Evans’ newly composed score comes over as decorative and incidental to the tale. Much of it is in three-four time; ‘The Gatsby’, a charleston, is a happy exception to the rule.

In a nutshell the piece lacks theatrical charisma. In Act II the music is silent for long stretches as we learn more about Gatsby’s past and his cronies who, let’s face it, aren’t a particularly winning bunch. It is to the credit of Linnie Reedman’s book, that a rapport is established between the characters and the audience, a feat that neither of the two screen adaptations in 1974 and 2013, managed.

David Ricardo-Pearce gives an understated performance as Gatsby. He is never more imposing than on his initial entrance in black tie, though later evinces a sympathetic understanding of his wife’s troubles while soaking up the venom spat out at him by her husband Tom Buchanan (Simon Bailey).

Sturridge’s Daisy veers on stridency, her singing as captured by an erratic sound system, uncertain in delivery. I enjoyed Nick Pack’s cameo roles – something for him in the world of Gilbert and Sullivan, is surely in store. The roles of the Wilsons, a key couple in the unfolding drama, taken by Christopher Staines and Kim Medcalf, never really get off the ground, their roles crying out for clearer delination, particularly in the earlier scenes where other cast members struggle for effect. On a lighter note, the slick dance routines, choreographed by Chris Whittaker, are executed in a lively manner with the jazz age always in mind.

Adrian Edwards

Readers may be interested in:

Gatsby at the Arts Theatre – exclusive rehearsal images – News


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