Noel Coward Theatre, London
22nd June, 2012
Gatz is certainly an epic piece of theatre. Coming in at an overall running time of 8 hours, it felt like quite an accomplishment to get through it. Note how I use the phrase ‘get through it’. I wasn’t sure what I expected when booking, but it was partly due to The Great Gatsby being one of my favourite novels that I wanted to go. And it’s not as if the 4 acts flew by as I felt that I was constantly being reminded of how long it was by ushers or fellow audience members or even me, thus giving the effect that its length was the show’s main spectacle.
On paper (which plays a big part in the production) this should work as an adaptation. It is all too often when we see critics saying how a page-to-screen or page-to-stage adaptation is disappointing, but this is the F. Scott Fitzgerald 1922 novel actually read out in its entirety. The concept is that a bored office worker finds a copy of The Great Gatsby in a Rolodex and starts reading aloud, leading to all his co-workers coming to life as characters from the novel. The production relies heavily on your imagination as by the end you believe that the tall but balding, middle-age Jim Fletcher is Gatsby with lavish attributes (such as a pink suit) and shining exuberance.
However, being honest, I found some moments of the show a little dull. It shames me to say it, especially as the critics and so many audience members (including an American woman sitting next to me) found it exhilarating. The American company Elevator Repair Service play with what is theatrical and what is not in Gatz, but I felt that the section of the novel that Jordan Baker narrates (in the second of the four acts) was particularly uneventful, perhaps purposefully so that the audience engage with what is being said at that point. Although Susie Sokol seemed apt for the role of sporty Jordan Baker, I didn’t quite take to her in the role and, like others, would have preferred to see the other actress listed in the programme take on the role. Perhaps this is down to how they looked fitting with my expectation of what she looked like but this seems unlikely as this should not matter. After all, Jim Fletcher’s Gatsby is aesthetically nowhere near how he is described in the novel.
The Noel Coward seemed the wrong venue for this: far too large and perhaps a fringe venue would have suited the show better as well as relating back to its roots. What was interesting was that the sound desk for the SFX used in the telling of the novel’s story was operated onstage in view of the audience whereas other sound effects (possibly those from the office and its surroundings) were still operated from the back of the audience, thus keeping the adaptation contained within the walls of the drab office, much like our imagination and a novel existing in a perhaps otherwise separate and mundane world.
Admittedly, I was very tired when I saw the play and I usually find it difficult to concentrate when reading a book for long periods of time, but the Dress Circle of the Noel Coward is not an easy space to spend that amount of time as I was getting extremely uncomfortable by the end. Gladly, the auditorium was air-conditioned and the house wasn’t full when I went so I got upgraded down two tiers from the balcony, thus ensuring that I had a decent view.
Scott Shepherd’s central performance is staggering. It is claimed that he knows all 50,000 words of the novel off by heart and his concentration stays on top form throughout. Although I found Gatz extremely interesting and I’m glad I experienced it, it was sadly not for me though was recently placed 8th in the Guardian’s Best Theatre of 2012 list.
Gatz played a limited run in London and was presented by the American Elevator Repair Service company as part of London’s 2012 LIFT festival for the arts celebrating international work which takes place every other year. Gatz has been running on and off in numerous locations for over ten years now.
Baz Lurhmann’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby is due for release in the UK in 2013, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire.