#Tweetingit – 3* Bright young things giving it large in pre-depression America, flappers and dudes in sharp suits, and a millionaire with a plan. Does what it says on the tin.
And the award for best disguised attraction goes to the Union Theatre in Southwark. You would never know it was there;, tucked behind a café, under a railway arch that used to be a paper warehouse. The plain exterior gives way to an impressive performance area in the round featuring an excellent lighting system. This creates a distinctive setting for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s edgy classic from 1924.
The tale centres on Jay Gatsby, millionaire in Long Island and organiser of extravagant parties; he has a barely disguised passion for beautiful debutante Daisy Buchanan; who is married to fabulously wealthy Tom Buchanan. Daisy is cousin to Nick Carraway, bond salesman and new guy on the block, who has designs on Daisy’s friend, Jordan Baker; a classically styled new woman of the roaring twenties and a competitive golfer to boot. Tom is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, bored and frustrated wife of dull garage owner George Wilson; while Meyer Wolfsheim, friend and confidante to Gatsby, helped him establish his fortune. Set in the fictional Long Island district of West Egg, relationships gradually develop between the characters, inevitably drawn to Gatsby’s legendary Saturday night parties. Gatsby is typical of his breed, assuming wealth rapidly, but without the standing to be truly accepted as respectable. The quality and power of Fitzgerald’s storytelling is never in doubt, and endures as a testament to American lifestyles in the 1920s. However, the musical makeover adds gloss to the piece when it is not really needed.
The songs were pleasant and well performed, but too many were instantly forgettable, ladder to the stars being the one real standout. At times, they seemed to interrupt the story rather than enhance it. A clean production ensures the characters shine through but the musical numbers were often a distraction. Fitzgerald novels don’t usually make strong musical adaptations; Beautiful and Damned, the novel preceding Gatsby was staged as a musical in 2004 with similarly mixed results. Nevertheless, an enthusiastic, well drilled cast bought the show home; particularly the tall, angular Nicholas Fagerberg, who showed understated presence in the title role; Katie Beudert, who rose above the ensemble showing great versatility; singing, dancing, acting and playing the trumpet; while Ferne McCann of Towie fame settled into the role of Myrtle with comparative ease. Overall, a solid production that does what it says on the tin.
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Book: Linnie Reedman
Music & Lyrics: Joe Evans
Director: Linnie Reedman
Musical Director: Barnaby Southgate
Producer: Ruby in the Dust
Booking Link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/uniontheatre
Box Office: 0207 261 9876
Booking until: 30 April 2016
Review: Brian Penn