First Night: Gatz, Noel Coward Theatre, London
A six-hour Gatsby drama? It's not such a great evening out
Thursday 14 June 2012
So many theatrical adaptations of great novels fall along that forlorn spectrum between "inadequate" and "lousy" that it's become almost routine for critics to assert that "You'd be better off staying at home and reading the book".
Gatz, the marathon devised by New York's experimental theatre outfit, Elevator Repair Service, aims to offer a third option – trek to the theatre and have a great book (in this case, Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby) read out to you in its entirety by a company of 13 in the course of six hours-plus of performance time.
The allegedly liberating wheeze of John Collins's much ballyhooed production is to recreate the novel in a drab mid-1990s office. At the start, while he's waiting for technical support for a frozen computer, one of the drones idly picks up a battered paperback and reads out the famous opening "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice..." Around him, his co-workers start to participate, turning into characters for whom they would not be Central Casting's ideal choice.
Jim Fletcher who plays Jim, the middle-management type who eventually portrays the titular tycoon, claims this novel is "kind of like what they say about Afghanistan – nobody has ever invaded it or reoccupied it". I am not sure the breakthrough solution lies in what happens here.
Fitzgerald's subtle ambivalence is, for the most part, crudely divided between relentless slapstick and Nick the reader's infatuation with the novel. It is paradoxical that this extravagantly over-hyped show becomes genuinely moving only towards the end when Nick jettisons the book and speaks to us directly in defiant solidarity with the slaughtered Gatsby against the closing ranks of the callous rich. Before that, it can feel like a bit of an endurance test.
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