The Great Gatsby
A beautiful summer evening in Jesmond Dene. The audience on their feet and doing the Charleston before the show has even begun. We are outside watching live theatre for the first time in two years, and folk are in celebratory mood.
Heartbreak Productions made a triumphant return to Jesmond Dene this June after two years and a deadly pandemic put the kibosh on my favourite theatre company’s 2020 national tour. This show is worth waiting for.
The mysterious Gatsby
Young Nick Carraway has just returned to New York from the greyness of WWI and from the isolation of the Spanish Flu. The mysterious Gatsby is throwing exuberant parties to throw off the dust of the previous decade. Nick finds himself dazzled by the style of his independently wealthy neighbour.
What follows is a story which both celebrates this new horizon and its endless excesses, but also shows the dark side of the materialism of the American Dream. No one really knows who Gatsby is or where he got his money from. He is an ambivalent character and his past contributes to his final fate. He is a romantic who idealises his love and suffers the consequences of that total devotion.
The Great Gatsby – first rate direction and music
Lowell Walker directs for Heartbreak for the first time. He also incidentally adapted this first class stage version from the novel, and does a cracking job. Direction is concise and the story (which is quite complicated) is left to tell itself through short simple scenes.
The music adds a whole dimension to the show with Josh Maddison, the musical director selecting some gorgeous songs for the cast to perform. One of my all times favourites ‘bewitched bothered and bewildered’ from the musical Pal Joey set the tone for the rest of the show. Heartbreak are always big on audience participation and we were all enthusiastically dancing and providing musical support whenever asked.
Tragedy or triumph?
This is a very strong cast, who are as talented musically as they are at acting. Matt Williams is excellent as the enigmatic (and very tall) J. Gatsby who throws lavish parties in order to lure his love Daisy Buchanan back into his arms. Daisy is played by Eloise Hare who sparkles as the effete, desired socialite. She professes to love Gatsby but her loyalties are challenged. She also gets to sing quite a few lovely songs.
Rachel Dussek plays a variety of roles and is also rather nifty on the clarinet. Rory Dulku is the brutish Tom, Daisy’s husband who hates Gatsby and repels his advances towards his wife, despite his own infidelity being common knowledge.
Connor Hinds holds the narrative together as Carraway, Gatsby’s young neighbour, who is in awe of this mysterious character. He is a strong presence throughout and is our main storyteller, as well as playing the cello from time to time. Although lured and seduced by the glamour of Gatsby he eventually recognises the darkness beneath the glittering facade.
America in the twenties
The roaring twenties in America was a hedonistic reaction to the great depression and the horrors of the First World War. People were making fortunes and business was booming. Gatsby existed in the ‘Age of Jazz’ which became the music of choice in the speakeasies of the day. Women’s roles were changing and the self made man was challenging the supremacy of the old monied social elite.
Carraway says ‘ I found myself both repelled and enchanted by the inexhaustible variety of life.’ I think after after nearly two years of lockdown, I’m with him on that one.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed being able to watch live theatre again and right here in gorgeous Jesmond Dene too. This production is touring all over the UK this summer, check out www.heartbreakproductions.co.uk for other venues and for tickets.
The last fabulous Heartbreak Show was two years ago Private Lives