Theatre company Ruby in the Dust celebrate their 10th anniversary with a reprisal of their original musical Gatsby, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. Before the Union Theatre, the show had reached several other venues in London with critical acclaim. This time around however, the company’s classic doesn’t hold up to its previous recognition.
Narrated by Jay Gatsby’s (Nicolas Fagerberg) friend and mentor Meyer Wolfshiem (Paul DuBois) Gatsby is told as a flashback, and follows Fitzgerald’s story quite accurately. The show opens as Wolfshiem is discussing Gatsby’s death with Nick Carraway (Blair Robertson), who was his neighbour. We find out that the reason for the title character’s lavish parties was to finally meet Daisy Buchanan (Joanna Brown), whom he was once in love with. Daisy is now unhappily married to Tom Buchanan (Zed Josef), and when she meets Gatsby again, the two rekindle their love, leading to a tragic end.
The idea of Wolfshiem as a narrator is an interesting concept, as it is a refreshing take on the classic that allows the audience to see Gatsby through the eyes of the man who helped him become the rich and charismatic character he is. However as the show continues, it becomes clear that this perspective is not going to give an alternative narrative to Gatsby’s character. Instead this is just a musical adaptation of The Great Gatsby which lacks the glitz and glamour of the Roaring Twenties it is trying to convey.
There are elements of the era director Linnie Reedman stages really well. The jazz sounds of the period are entertaining during the upbeat songs, and it’s great to hear the talented cast doubling up as the musicians. At points however, the instruments drown out the sounds of the singing making the lyrics hard to pick up, which sadly becomes quite distracting. Similarly, some of the performances were so over the top, and accents so inconsistent, that it became hard to concentrate. In a large space, the exaggerated performances would be perfect for the musical, but at the Union Theatre’s intimate space, it came across as very obnoxious.
DuBois was an oddly likeable Wolfshiem, engaging from the onset, and the character that stood out the most in the show. It would have been great for him to have more narrative throughout which would have given him a chance to be more involved in the story. Another stand out performance was by Josef, who portrayed Tom’s arrogance and immorality brilliantly and with charisma. One person who lacked on that front was unfortunately the great Gatsby himself. Fagerbeg’s portrayal was not very memorable, and it was difficult to see him as the man with the enigmatic persona and lavish parties.
The costumes were one of the more redeemable qualities of Gatsby, the dresses and suits oozing 1920s glam. But on this occasion the disappointing elements of the show outweigh the more enjoyable aspects of it. Apart from the few memorable performances, this musical adaptation of The Great Gatsby doesn’t live up to its greatness.
Gatsby is at the Union Theatre until 30th April