Like a fine wine, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel has only become more appreciated with age. His racy portrayal of the Jazz Age is often read as an early glimpse of the American Dream speeding alarmingly towards disaster. It also reminds us of a time when war loomed large in recent memory, and acting on delight and passion was vital to survive.
Alexander Wright’s adaptation, a majestic piece of immersive theatre, casts its audience as party guests arrived at a mansion (a thrilling transformation of the Gate Theatre by designer Ciaran Bagnall). From the moment Marty Rea’s gentle narrator stands up and recalls his old friend Jay Gatsby, we’re filled with hope.
Moving between a ballroom and private chambers, it’s up to you who to follow: melancholic socialite Daisy (Charlene McKenna), her brutish husband Tom (Mark Huberman), or his lively mistress Myrtle (an electric Aoibheann McCann). There isn’t a poor path to choose; Wright’s script subtly summarises throughout, whilst Peter O’Brien’s lucid costuming, Isobel Waller-Bridge’s delicate music and Muirne Bloomer’s ecstatic choreography create a buoyant atmosphere.
It’s disarming just how much it makes the audience complicit; we’re asked to reserve judgement, keep secrets and offer support. When we all come together to witness a reunion between old lovers – McKenna’s jaded Daisy and Paul Mescall’s tremendously hopeful Gatsby – awkward advances become stirringly romantic.
Of course, this all turns to decadence. “Won’t you have another drink?” pleads the pro-golfer Jordan (a resolute Rachel O’Byrne). A refusal comes in a mournful note. We follow Huberman’s insistently complex Tom, and Myrtle’s husband George (a nicely judged Gerard Kelly), as they separately root out their wives’ infidelity, all the while approaching the guarded secret of Gatsby’s wealth – that’s if Raymond Scannell’s McKee, a minor figure here given a larger role, doesn’t beat them to it.
When its crisis comes to a head, we get one final request from Kate Gilmore’s aching Catherine: preserve the reputations of those who have fallen. Such is the epic trajectory of Wright’s production, from ebullient romance to immense tragedy. Every party’s got to end sometime. And that’s particularly regretful when the celebrations are an exhilarating leap by a theatre’s new management to generate new audiences.
The Gate, like Gatsby’s mansion, is crying out to be filled. You should accept the invite.
The Great Gatsby is on at the Gate Theatre until 16 September 2017. Click here for more details.