Hannah Ritchie reviews the latest production from Mermaids, The Great Gatsby

We are all looking for a green light.

We are all looking for the past.

Beneath the glitzy sheen of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous story is a surprising amount of darkness – a sticky underbelly that I didn’t expect to stay with me as long as it has. As difficult as The Great Gatsby is to portray, it was in the seeing and hearing of the stage adaptation that I finally realized why this particular tale has enamoured so many.

Admittedly it was the central story rather than the specifics of the production which charmed me the most. Beyond the beautiful set, the vast array of gorgeous costumes, and the thumping bass of the soundtrack was a story of discomfiting nostalgia that, to paraphrase the final words of Nick Carraway (Seb Bridges), really did bear us ceaselessly back into the past. But whilst director Madison Hauser created a lovely vision of carefully-considered, nostalgia-tinged excess, the production fell short of its full potential.

From characters as large as Gatsby himself (Daniel Jonusas) to the funny-yet-fleeting appearances of Mr and Mrs McKee (Adam Spencer and Talia Maggs-Rapport), there was a comfort and confidence that pervaded the majority of the performance. But despite this, the show lacked an overall level of polish. Accents were sometimes dropped in the odd line or phrase, and there was a rushed aspect to many of the scenes (despite somewhat slow transitions) which lent an air of clumsiness to the production, and too-high sound levels coupled with too-quiet actors meant that lines were often lost to the first few rows of the audience, never mind the vast majority sitting further back.

There were also some curious character decisions, not all of which felt totally committed to – rather dicey considering how well-known this story and its main players are. The change that I felt worked best, was Morgan Corby’s portrayal of Tom Buchanan – his commitment to the role of the brilliantly sinister and slimy villain was such a contrast to the all-American sportsman image of Tom that, though a little odd at times, worked very well. In contrast, there wasn’t enough of the earnestness that Georgia Luckhurst gave to the otherwise unruffled and blasé Jordan Baker. Luckhurst is excellent at pulling heartstrings, but if this was a deliberate directorial choice then she should have been pushed further to work against Jordan’s established characterization. Personally though, I feel like Luckhurst is absolutely capable of playing against this type, and so it would have been much more interesting to see her made to fully commit to the cool detachment of the ‘modern’ 1920s woman, who offers arch commentary on the action and so often comments that Caraway is “too honest” for her.

Despite all this, the key aspect of a production is to entertain. Did The Great Gatsby meet that baseline? Yes. Did I feel like the cast were having a great time? Absolutely. And to undertake a project as ambitious as this should itself be congratulated, whatever its inconsistencies were. The Great Gatsby may have been a rough diamond, but nevertheless, the care and passion that everyone involved put into this production gave it a shine all its own.

STARS: * * *

Hannah Ritchie