The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald, adapted for the stage by Simon Levy
Directed by Susan Ferley
Performed by Shane Carty, Stephenos Christou, Greg Gale, Allison Grant, Nigel Hamer, Christine Horne, Haley McGee, Mike Shara, Jane Spence, Jeffrey Wetsch
Grand Theatre, London
February 14 to March 3, 2012
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Be Careful What You Wish For
I remember reading The Great Gatsby in high school and finding it difficult to connect my life in rural Ontario in the seventies with the lives of the idle rich in Long Island, New York in the twenties. When I read it later, as an adult, it had more impact. And now seeing it brought to life on stage, the story has a clear message that can speak to any audience – about excesses, about ill-gotten wealth, about decadence, about chasing a warped vision of happiness. In short, be careful what you wish for, you might just get it…
London’s Grand Theatre brings us the Canadian premier of The Great Gatsby, and it does justice to the iconic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The story is told by narrator Nick Carraway who stumbles into the lives of a group of too-rich misfits. Nick gives the audience its bearings, and unravels the lavish lifestyles for us. The show opens with the two women, Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker, languishing on a chaise lounge – The Grand’s scene is exactly as I had pictured when I read the novel.
Daisy is married to Tom, but it soon becomes apparent that Tom has a mistress and a history of being unfaithful. Jordan is a professional golfer, and Daisy wants to set her up with Nick, Daisy’s distant cousin. Nick is not part of the wealthy set and has rented a small cottage nearby. His neighbour, Jay Gatsby lives in a huge mansion throwing big, drunken parties, despite prohibition laws, where glittering flappers dance the Charleston.
Gatsby and Daisy had been in love prior to World War I, but when Jay was away at war, Daisy married Tom. Gatsby’s only goal is to get her to renounce Tom and win her back. To do it, he has to be rich, and to get rich he resorted to whatever means he could. No more can be revealed here, without spoiling the many twists in the plot, but needless to say, it doesn’t end well.
Greg Gale is excellent as Nick – he seems overwhelmed by the activities and yet relates them well as narrator. Christine Horne as Daisy is perfect. She is charming and beautiful, yet shows her unhappiness. Mike Shara gives us an aloof Gatsby: he does well in the tricky role. Like all the party goers, we can only admire the Great Gatsby from afar; he doesn’t open up for fear of his true history spilling out. Shara makes Gatsby interesting without letting us know him. Jeffrey Wetsch plays the “brutish, hulking” and racist Tom Buchanan very well. He also has a difficult task – we have to see why Daisy would marry him, but we also need to know his dark side.
Haley McGee is an aggressive and saucy Jordan, while Jane Spence is a crass Myrtle Wilson. Shane Carty is good as the pitiful George Wilson. Nigel Hamer and Allison Grant provide some humour as Mr. & Mrs. McKee. Hamer handles the multiple roles as Myer Wolfsheim and the cop very well. Stephenos Christou as Michaelis completes the cast.
The highlight of the set is the notorious yellow Rolls Royce. It was literally built at the Grand, looks eerily real, and is driven around the stage. The set pieces convey the opulence, such as the party tent with Chinese lanterns, the hotel suite, or the ridiculously tall shirt shelves. The optician’s sign with the eyes watching the gas station is well done and so significant. However, the billowing silk curtains used during set changes are a bit of a distraction. We’re told that it is unbearably hot, yet the breeze in the curtains belies that statement. They mistakenly give an airy feel to the scenes that should be oppressive.
Script writer Simon Levy has done a reasonable job of a daunting task: condensing Fitzgerald’s novel into a play. However, it left me with some questions, trying to remember the original work and I had to go home and re-read parts of the book. Despite that, I was still captivated by this play. Credit goes to director Susan Ferley for using Levy’s version to its fullest despite its time limitations. With a talented cast, she has achieved a very thought-provoking production.
The Great Gatsby continues at the Grand Theatre, London until March 3. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.