Gatsby, Union Theatre

Gatsby (c) Roy Tan (4)

Jay Gatsby’s distinctive yellow car is an iconic image in The Great Gatsby. Power, wealth and charisma emanate from its shimmering, custom paint job as it rolls between Long Island and Manhattan in the decadent 1920s. It’s eye catching and demands attention, like the enigmatic man who owns it. Adaptations of The Great Gatsby are plentiful, but good ones need the same characteristics as Gatsby’s car, along with a generous, heady mix of self-indulgence and extravaganza. Linnie Reedman and Joe Evans’ musical incarnation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel manages to avoid incorporating any these. Bland music, lazy performances and design and a book with numerous shortcomings makes Gatsby a stuttering, third-hand Ford Fiesta rather than a customized, purring Rolls Royce.

Reality TV celeb Ferne McCann makes her theatre debut in this production, bringing a lot of negative publicity with her as consequence. She’s also incredibly surprising – alone in a theatre-trained cast, she is the only one consistently able to be heard over the live actor-musos with her Amy Winehouse-influenced performance. Of the 13-strong cast, most are weak, some terribly so. They are either grotesquely overacted cartoons, or underplayed so much that their performances are flat. There’s no sense of danger or excitement, or EVERYTHING IS EXCITING ALL THE TIME FOR OVER TWO HOURS. It’s exhausting to take in. In either case, the characters are no more than stereotypes; this is more of an issue with Reedman’s book as it certainly doesn’t give the actors much depth to work with. Accents drift around the 50 states and then some, with the only consistent one coming from an actual American.

Reedman also directs, with little comprehension of the narrative arc she constructed from the novel. Other than the Plaza hotel scene late in the play when Daisy and Jay confess all to Tom, there is a pronounced lack of tension. Myrtle’s tragic end is anticlimactic and rushed, as is her husband George’s retaliation. She neglects characterization and seems to focus solely on staging. If that.

There are 21 musical numbers (including a couple of reprises), but none of Joe Evans’ tunes stands out from the rest. Even with a mix of smaller and larger numbers, there is little  musical variation. Transitions from book to song are often abrupt and forced for the sake of fitting in another tune rather than naturally reaching a point in the story where music is necessary to accentuate a plot point or emotion. Nick Pack’s choreography, without much to work with, is similarly unvaried with a bit of a Charleston every now and then.

There are few positives to pull from this production. Reedman and Evans’ interpretation is a choppy hatchet job of Fitzgerald’s work and few, if any, features deem it a worthy adaptation. If Gatsby’s goal is for the audience to “feel…the heat, sweat and life” of the euphoric, post-war American decade, it barely comes close. Tepid, cool and laconic is what actually comes across, in a wheezy motorcar threatening to cut out at any moment.

Gatsby runs through 30th April.

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