Great Gatsby at Oxford Alchymy Festival
The Great Gatsby: The Wardrobe Ensemble in front rooms everywhere
Review by Jon Lewis
Small and Great
Tom Brennan, a creative associate of the North Wall Arts Centre and co-founder of Bristol’s Wardrobe Ensemble, has directed a marvellous two-hander, The Great Gatsby, which was filmed in Bristol’s The Wardrobe Theatre this January. F Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel about the flipside of the American dream, adapted by the company and programmed as part of the North Wall’s Alchymy Festival, is thrillingly brought to life.
Jesse Meadows and Tamsin Hurtado Clarke take on dozens of characters, switching back and forth with a slight tug of a jacket. Meadows’ main characters are the narrator, Nick Carroway, and the love of Gatsby’s life, Daisy, while Hurtado Clarke plays the mysterious Jay Gatsby, Nick’s lover, the golfer Jordan Baker, and his love rival, the carelessly brutal Tom Buchanan. Both performers wear sparkly black outfits, Meadows a trouser suit, Hurtado Clarke a jazz age style dress' enabling them to shapeshift easily.
Using only a minimum of props, a sofa is transformed into a car, a train carriage and a road along which the actors push tiny toy cars for journeys into Long Island or New York City. The nightmarish industrial Valley of Ashes with its billboard featuring the eyes of TJ Eckleburg is created within a frenzied, instant splash of modern art, whilst Tom Crosley-Thorne’s industrial pumping techno soundtrack blasts out and Chris Collier’s startling, occasionally strobe, lighting invades the stage.
The story is faithful to Fitzgerald, the early chapters announced by the duo with a carefree chucking of party cups over the back screen. There’s a Brechtian feel to the performance with its lack of naturalism and heightened, playful movement choreographed by Deepraj Singh. The extravagant lifestyle of massive parties thrown by Gatsby is symbolised by the orange light bulb that draws in Nick like a moth to the flame. This being a filmed production, the camera draws the viewer’s attention to these details more forcibly than if the play is experienced in a theatre. The final, energetic, destructive scene captures the waste and desolation hidden by Gatsby’s conspicuous largesse. This highly theatrical production is an excellent showcase for a company that has always thought big while remaining small.