I love a bit of fancy dress. Especially the kind that lets you look either really great or really terrible while you do it. So an immersive Great Gatsby production with a serious emphasis on dressing up, drinking cocktails and partying sounded like one we couldn’t miss.
It sold out when it ran at the Vaults Festival earlier this year, so my theatre chums and I quickly got our collective act together and bought tickets when they announced a re-run in a new venue later in the year. So having been waiting for it for a while, and with positive reviews from friends that had seen it, our expectations were higher than we probably like to admit.
Presented by The Guild of Misrule and The Immersive Ensemble, the production was not without its flaws, but I’m worried about sounding really negative so before I go into those, I’ll preface this by saying we did have a lot of fun.
It took a while to get going. We didn’t arrive too early – just 15 minutes or so to give us time to check in and buy a drink – but still had quite a bit of time hanging around before Carraway came into the bar and it really “started”. But even when it started and we were ushered through into the main room, it felt like a slow start – there was quite a bit of time allowed for getting seats, exploring the space (which wasn’t huge) and buying drinks. I appreciate that this was probably necessary to give people the chance to get drinks etc, but it lost momentum while we were milling around. It felt like it really started when the cast all started doing the Charleston, and that did kick start the fun. After that, the story started, and splinter groups were taken off into other rooms by various characters, but we always reconvened in the main room for the major scenes, ensuring no one missed these. I think we were unlucky here, as we kept missing being taken away, which meant we felt like we were missing all the special, small group scenes. I did later get to witness a couple of these – at the climax of the story – and the ones I saw were quite intimate and emotional, and probably the most enjoyable bits of the production for me. I know I can’t keep comparing everything to Punchdrunk, but I really missed being able to choose my own story – the groups were largely selected by the actors (understandably for logistical reasons of moving the groups around) but it meant I got frustrated, wanting to follow certain characters but being unable to without forcing my way through a crowd in a way that was unacceptable for this audience.
A note on the audience – there were two girls who hadn’t dressed up, who chatted the whole way through the production, and had no spatial awareness and kept standing in front of other people. Seriously, if you’re not going to get into the spirit of it and stop your conversation, just don’t bother. It’s disrespectful to the actors, not to mention the other audience members who have paid to be there and whose evening you’re ruining.
But onto the good stuff – overall, we had a great night! Despite the humidity turning the venue into a sweat box, the actors were committed and engaging, adding little touches of audience interaction that never felt too forced. I really liked Carraway’s performance, and Jordan was a bundle of fun (though her accent slipped a couple of times). I took a while to warm to Gatsby, but how easy is it to get to know a rich playboy who has emotional barriers? He really came to life in the second act and I found myself feeling quite attached to him by the end. I didn’t spend a lot of time with Daisy due to the particular scenes I saw, but I liked what I did see. George and Myrtle were the kind of characters I’m usually drawn to – a secondary storyline with an emotional hook – and I found George sweet and vulnerable which made the story’s ending more impactful. I didn’t spend much time with Tom, but he seemed well cast and solid in the scenes I did see. I’m not sure what – if any – role the rest of ensemble had beyond dancing, but they added to the atmosphere nicely. The finale was well pitched – moving, but understated.
The production did feel like it was put together with a limited budget – not that it felt too cheap, but it was missing the rich, sumptuous luxury that you expect from a Gatsby party, some of the attention to detail etc. But once I got into it, I stopped noticing such things.
Overall, we really enjoyed our evening, and that was more important than any of the negatives – I’d just urge the company to continue to review how they move the audience around to enhance the audience experience. It’s not the sort of immersive production that demands a second visit, but I would go back – and perhaps try to stand in different places to ensure I saw different scenes.
The Great Gatsby is on until 10th September at a secret London location (but it’s not very secret – it’s on The Guild of Misrule’s website if you don’t want to book without knowing). Info and tickets available from http://www.seetickets.com/s/tour/the-great-gatsby/341