The Great Gatsby is a timeless novel, widely celebrated and studied internationally. Adapting it for the stage is a daunting and exciting prospect, one that Blackeyed Theatre has fully embraced, breathing new life into the text. It is sad story, a tragic romance, with extraordinary characters and dynamic language. Set in Long Island in 1922, Nick Carraway lives next door to the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and becomes swept up in the world of glamorous parties, jazz, and liquor. It is a moving tale that is both a fateful love story and social commentary on the materialistic attitudes of the time.
Sharkey has adapted the play carefully, maintaining the poetic language and melancholic tone of the novel, but he has also embraced the theatricality in the story, so it is completely at home on the stage. The result is a vibrant, fast-paced production that holds all the energy of a West End musical and all the complexity of the original text. He has focused on the intimate relationships of the larger-than-life characters, while always evoking the atmosphere of one great big party.
Director Eliot Giuralarocca has taken Sharkey’s adaptation and developed a sharp and dynamic production with a fantastic cast. He has harnessed the poetry in Sharkey’s text and weaved it throughout the production to generate a constant rhythm with the movement of the characters. The way the set has been designed by Victoria Spearing presents a number of shapes and sharp angles to the audience, yet encourages constant movement from the cast who appear to dance through it; the fluidity of their movement is striking and works seamlessly into the rhythm of the production.
Adding to this musicality is actual live music. All cast members are musicians and move from dialogue to song, swapping instruments and singing solo or chorally. The songs chosen are either directly referenced in the novel or are from the time period. Beyond adding to the lyrical quality of the show, the songs solidify the context of the story, transporting the audience even further into 1920s post-war America and highlighting the beauty and sadness in the text. They are performed flawlessly by the cast, to the point where you wonder how they can move so easily from speaking, to dancing, to singing, to playing an instrument.
The cast is a terrific ensemble, and it is to their credit they maintain the energy and rhythm of the play right through, without ever letting it drop. Their embodiment of their individual characters is highly impressive; they all make these unique and complex characters very much their own. Adam Jowett as Nick Carraway may stand out as he has the most stage time, but he seems to effortlessly carry the pace of the show and delivers the intention of the loaded dialogue and poetic language beautifully. This is not to take away from the rest of the cast, who play their characters with great intensity and attention to detail.
What has been achieved in the production is a great cohesion of ideas in each creative aspect. Each element is woven into the next to really embrace the musicality of the language, the melancholic nature of the story, and to ground it in a specific place and time. The audience is transported back to America in the 1920s to evoke the addictively dangerous and glamorous quality of the Jazz Age. Blackeyed Theatre has a strong production team behind it to produce such a unified and engaging show.