BWW Review: THE GREAT GATSBY Recreates The Jazz Age In High Society Circles

BWW Review: THE GREAT GATSBY Recreates The Jazz Age In High Society Circles

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Thursday 3rd September 2015

Independent Theatre productions usually fall into one of two categories, both of which fit under the heading of 'new works'. On the one hand, they have presented Australian and world premieres by international playwrights. The other category is even more important. Rob Croser, the artistic director of the company, loves great literature and, every so often, he is moved to adapt a work for the stage, all of which are, naturally, world premieres. This time, it is that iconic novel of the jazz age, the Roaring Twenties, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

Croser's adaptations differ from others in that he adheres closely to the literary works and maintains their integrity, rather than rewriting them almost beyond recognition. This production is all about the book, and maintains all of the wonderfully poetic original language, which is why it succeeds so well. Croser is also the director, so that authenticity is not lost between the script and the performance. For once, we see that the most important relationship, the most valid, and the only real connection, in the midst of a field of superficiality, is that between Jay Gatsby and the narrator/storyteller, Nick Carraway. Croser has assembled a cast worthy of the novel, and has worked with them to create a piece that offers more than numerous cinematic adaptations have done

Jay Gatsby has bought an impressive property, where he gives parties attended by hoards of people, most of whom were uninvited and almost all of whom have no idea who he is or what he looks like. Nick Carraway is renting a vastly less impressive property next door. He is also distantly related to Daisy, the wife of the wealthy Tom Buchanan, and a friend of women's golfing champion, Jordan Baker. Tom is not the most faithful of husbands and slips away regularly to take his mistress, Myrtle Wilson, to their flat in New York. Her husband, George, is a jealous and violent man and, although he is suspicious of her dallying with another man, he has no idea who it is. Things begin unravelling when Gatsby meets Daisy, with the help of Carraway, rekindling their love from when they knew one another before the war, five years earlier. The whole business of buying a mansion and hosting parties, we learn, is to meet Daisy again, and finding her distant cousin living next door makes things much easier.

This is a massive production for Will Cox, as Nick Carraway, delivering monologues between each scene, and appearing in all of them, never leaving the stage. Cox has performed numerous times with this company, starting in juvenile roles and growing up before the eyes of the audience. It was clear from the start that he would be one to watch and his potential has developed as expected. This is not only a very demanding role as far as the lines are concerned, but also a complex role as Carraway finds himself being pulled into the rich society that he does not always understand and that often shocks him, and Gatsby's gradual revelations about himself causing Carraway to constantly re-evaluate their friendship. Carraway is often torn in several directions, and Cox negotiates the myriad nuances of the character extremely well.

Lindsay Prodea is well known in musical theatre circles but he now makes his debut in a non-singing role, and with this company, as Jay Gatsby. Let us hope that he continues to explore this side of theatre as he does a remarkably fine job of it. Croser has a good eye for talent and knows how to develop it. Prodea is an ideal choice for Gatsby, looking and sounding every bit how one would imagine the character, traversing all of the emotional torments, and presenting a thoroughly believable performance, the actor completely disappearing into the persona of Gatsby. We can only hope to see him working more often in non-musical productions.

Madeleine Herd plays Daisy Buchanan, bright, seemingly carefree, flouncing around gaily at parties and enjoying the social life available to the well-to-do. Until she encounters Gatsby again, she appears to be little concerned about anything other than the things that money can buy: clothes, jewellery, and good times, all of which came with her marriage to Tom. Gatsby brings up past emotions and offers a far more affluent lifestyle, and Herd shows us the socialite caught between two possibilities, weighing them up and, we perceive, wanting both. Herd takes her character from the shallow social butterfly, drifting through life without a care, to an emotionally torn and somewhat confused woman without the skills to be able to cope. Her characterisation is admirable as she reveals that the flapper we first see is what Daisy has become, and settled for, but not all that she can be.

Alex Woollatt is Tom, a combination of a jealous husband and a philanderer, requiring and being given a strong characterisation. Woollatt's powerful interpretation gives Tom an air of self-importance, superiority, and an attitude that he can have whatever, or whoever, he wants due to his privileged position, coupled with a brooding presence when crossed, and a dangerous unpredictability.

Laura Antoniazzi also makes her debut with this company, in the role of Jordan Baker. I saw her in a small role with another company a short time ago and the transition with working with this group and having a larger role in which to develop a character has made a very noticeable difference. Her creditable appearance previously showed only a little of her ability, but here we discover much more to her, in one more of this production's superb characterisations. Jordan is the most likeable of the people that we meet, refraining from shallow relationships and being a genuine friend, even though we feel that few of the others deserve it. As a consequence of this, she feels the pain and sadness that they inflict on one another and, Antoniazzi shows us clearly the effect their careless treatment of others has on Jordan in a sympathetic performance.

Kate Bonney plays Myrtle Wilson, attractive and vital, but unpleasant, cheating on her husband, going off to New York dressed to kill, and offering the unbelievable claim that she is going to visit her sister. Bonney fills her character with vitality and a lust for life that does something to dissipate the unpleasant aspects of her relationship with Tom and, when he casts her aside, allows us a little sympathy for her, in her naivety that her life could be about to change.

Nick Fagan portrays Myrtle's husband, George, aware that he is being cuckolded, but powerless to do anything about it, other than hit out at Myrtle, as he does not know who her lover might be. Fagan adds another powerful performance as he carefully measures out his character's emotions, his suspicions growing, through anger in the knowledge she is making a fool of him with another man, into blind fury when he, mistakenly, blames Gatsby for Myrtle's death in a road accident.

There are too many people in the production to discuss every individual performance, but they all contribute a good deal to the atmosphere and excitement of the work. David Roach, who turns in a fine cameo as the shady Meyer Wolfsheim, designed the sensational art deco set, in collaboration with Rod Roach and Rob Croser. Matthew Marciniak's lighting does credit to both the set and the production, and the costumes are most stylish.

A production in the jazz age must have jazz, and Croser has selected some great music, with Ben Francis in a full white tuxedo, occasionally adding live vocals. Naturally, music is for dancing, and Pam O'Grady choreographed the effective numbers.

One person deserving of mention is the unnamed follow spot operator, who was on the ball throughout the performance, never once missing the mark or failing to keep up with the actor being lit. How rare this is, and what an asset to the production to have somebody so capable involved.

This is one more in a long line of successful Independent Theatre productions, with all of the professionalism associated with the company's work. Be quick, as it has a short run.

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From This Author Barry Lenny

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