When I previously saw Gatsby during its Union Theatre run back in April 2016, I pointed out that “it could do with some tightening and trimming down”, even if this meant losing the interval and performing it as a one-act show. The interval for this Leicester Square Theatre run has been retained, and even if my fellow theatregoers were not particularly impressed, I can honestly say it’s better than it was. it was rather like watching Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies shortly after it opened in 2010, and then going back to it some months later, after a significant revision had been put in place. It’s not the best production, out there, but, as I say, it’s better than it was.
I deal with the elephant in the room first – the production’s casting scoop in Cressida Bonas playing Daisy Buchanan. Bonas has been described as an ‘It Girl’ and was at one point linked to senior member of the British Royal Family. I strongly suspect, though, she has been cast meritoriously, based on this performance: this isn’t celebrity casting.
Buchanan is portrayed as a sort of younger version of Blanche DuBois (she of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire), except she hasn’t lived nearly as long as DuBois, and therefore still has a husband, Tom (Bradley Clarkson) to cling onto – for the Buchanans, it’s hardly the end of the road. Or is it? The show’s critical incident, which happens quite late in this musical, could potentially serve as a metaphor for Daisy and Tom.
The production still, slightly frustratingly, hasn’t quite got the balance of sound between music and vocals entirely right – one performer in particular (who, on reflection, I have decided should remain nameless) consistently lacked singing vocal projection, and many of composer and lyricist Joe Evans’ words were thus missed. The lighting (Dom Warwick) was well done, though, and the set kept fairly simple but effective.
There’s probably a metaphor, too, in Jay Gatsby (Ludovic Hughes) so desperately wanting to recreate the past and ultimately coming short, and the show itself wanting to do the very same. The costumes were appropriate – no complaints there – though the final scene confused me somewhat, transporting the audience back in time again, seemingly to an earlier part of the narrative, though why this reminder was necessary I couldn’t work out purely from seeing it: it was explained to me afterwards. Fortunately or unfortunately it is too much of a spoiler to regurgitate it here.
I don’t, sadly, recall any of the songs, either in terms of lyrics or tunes – not even a glance at the list of musical numbers in hindsight brings anything in particular to mind. But there were definitely some good displays of actor-musicianship, and excellent breaches of the fourth wall that, as far as I can remember, weren’t in the Union Theatre run. I never felt totally immersed in the lavishness of the inter-war, pre-Great Depression period, but this doesn’t stop this improved show from being a reasonably enjoyable evening.
Ends 15 January 2017 at Leicester Square Theatre