Which Gatsby is the greatest? Plays go head-to-head in roaring Twenties row
Three productions clash with the DiCaprio blockbuster – so which will end in tragedy?
Nick Clark is the arts correspondent of The Independent. He joined the newspaper in June 2007, initially reporting on the stock markets. He has covered beats including the City, and technology, media and telecoms and made the switch to arts in December 2011. He has also contributed articles to the sports section.
Saturday 11 February 2012
The entertainment world is in the grip of the Roaring Twenties and one of the era's most celebrated works.
British fans of The Great Gatsby, the celebrated novel of F Scott Fitzgerald, can look forward to three stage productions this year and a blockbuster movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Jay Gatsby and acquaintances are set to make the leap from the page to the London stages of Wilton's Music Hall, the King's Head Theatre and the Noel Coward Theatre in 2012.
Experts have variously attributed the revitalised fascination with one of 20th-century American literature's most enduring works with the strength of the storytelling, a fascination with the period and copyright law. One believes that, above all, it is the book's "astonishingly striking" parallels with the modern day that have prompted the spate of adaptations.
Guy Reynolds, professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said: "It is all to do with money. The book had a context of numerous scandals including financial ones. People were making a great amount of money, but that money was twisted and bent. The novel looks like a template for what has happened recently."
Perhaps the most anticipated adaptation is Gatz, an eight-hour production from the avant-garde New York company Elevator Repair Service, which is coming over as part of the London International Festival of Theatre. John Collins, the director, said: "The Great Gatsby is a perfectly constructed gem of a piece of writing. I loved how lyrical and efficient it was. The contemporary resonance is a little bit deeper than short-term cultural trends. The style of the period is exciting and beautiful, but the definitive work of the Jazz Age is based on the depth and beauty of the work."
The production dates back to 1999, but repeated failure to win over the Fitzgerald estate's literary agents meant it was forced to perform underground in Manhattan. At the time, the only official stage adaptation to be approved by the author's estate since 1926 opened The Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis.
Yet the estate allowed Gatz to tour Europe before it finally played New York in 2010 "after certain agreements expired", Mr Collins said, proving one of the hottest tickets of the season. This year will see its first production in the UK.
Gatz is described as an "enactment of the novel". There will be 23 performances in London in which the entire 49,000 words of the book are spoken. There are several intervals and a dinner break along the way. In the UK it is now fair game after the copyright on the work elapsed on 1 January 2011 – 70 years after Fitzgerald's death. Mr Collins said: "Who owns these works now anyway; the authors are long gone."
The Wilton's Music Hall production is keen to stress those parallels of a society being destroyed by money and dishonesty. Frances Mayhew, the artistic director of the east London venue, said: "The audience accepts it because it seems to have similarities with modern times. Its description of hedonism and excess as people don't realise they are heading towards terrible tragedy." Later in the year, the Kings Head in north London is to stage Ruby in the Dust, a musical adaptation.
Ms Mayhew also conceded that there is a fascination with the 1920s' setting and fashions. "There is certainly a vintage nostalgia," she said. "There are an awful lot of nightclubs dressed up as speakeasies."
The scale of the productions pale alongside Australian film-maker Baz Luhrmann's $120m (£76m) adaptation of the book.
As Seen On Screen: The Great American Novel
1926: The first adaptation for the silver screen came a year after the book was published. The silent film, which is now lost, was based on a stage play that had opened on Broadway earlier that year, directed by George Cukor.
1949: The second film adaptation starred Alan Ladd and Betty Field. Tyrone Power was initially attached to the project but quit after the studio passed on Gene Tierney, his choice to play Daisy Buchanon.
1974: The version starred Robert Redford as Gatsby and Mia Farrow as Daisy. While the production values were praised, the critical reception was weak.
2000: The production that stymied Gatz was the filming of a TV movie version starring Toby Stephens, Mira Sorvino and Paul Rudd.
2012: Baz Luhrmann's adaptation stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, with the $120m film due for release on Christmas Day.
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