Review of ‘The Great Gatsby Immersive Play’: “Which way is the party?”

The allure of the Jazz Age flies over the Atlantic to bring the folly and seduction of the Roaring ’20s into the streets of London. Guillermo Názara reviews this new live adaptation on one of the greatest American classics, to let us know what kind of folly awaits inside the mansion of Long Island’s most excentric millionaire.

“Oh, you want too much”. It’s funny how accurate the old saying of ‘life imitating art’ can be – even when it comes to the ghosts of fictional characters haunting you from beyond the page. Yes, I’m a demanding fellow – and when there’s something I don’t like, I just say it. And tht doesn’t make me nasty or overcritical. It makes a bitch, but that can’t be treated – not that I want to… Anyway, despite my friends (yes, to your surprise, I have a few) usually pointing how stiff I can be sometimes (no cheap joke intended), it’s not less true that details are important, even crucial, to the success of anything – let alone a show, and further in that matter, an immersive one.

With big credits to their name including the Dr. Who: Time Fracture experience, the expectations about bringing the “great American novel” (for lack of a better synonym) to a surrounding performance get much higher – bear in mind we’re already talking about a story taking place in the flamboyant environment of nouveau riche 1920s America. The show is in fact put together at the same venue where its sci-fi predecessor dwelled: quite a huge building in the heart of London’s most opulent neighbourhood, with lots of possibilities and already preset vibe to feed from. Up the marble stairs of its entrance, a curtain separates us from the outside world and the one we’re supposed to be a part from for a few hours. No photography, no mobile use, no overdrinking (why?!!!!!)… The disclaimer has been given, time to join the fun. Curtain’s drawn….

Welcome to Gatsby’s mansion’s grand hall. Though sadly it’s not as grand as we would have liked. A vast open space unrolls before our eyes. There’s music, there’s a bar, there’s some art deco to create the feeling…. But there’s no excess. Where’s the lavishness, where’s chandeliers? Where’s the insulting extravagant taste associated with those that come from new money? It’s really not there. The usual guess pops inside your head: “maybe it’s some sort of preshow and the real theming awaits behind”. Maybe is a wishful term, but also precise. Thankfully enough, there’s more awaiting past that first room, where the real (and necessary) care to make the experience absorbing (that’s what immersive means, after all) has been given. But most suprisingly, that’s not where you’ll spend most of your time.

One can only get into his dramatic mood (as if I ever switch it off) and ask the theatre gods “why” while crying and ripping his hair off… I may be overreacting – okay, let’s just do the hair thing then… Taking it through more rational eyes and putting the producer hat on, the inquiry remains: why spend so much budget and effort on parts that people are not going to try for more than 5 minutes, but keep it so simple in a space they will be using for one hour and a half? Yes, they renact in it some other scenes occurring outdoors and so on, but if there’s something great about set design is that it allows us to transport ourselves to an ocean of adventures while remaining on the same floor – we just need to be imaginative enough when exploring its possibilities. Unfortunately, this all looks too empty.

The piece has some salvage into its rescue, however, having been blessed with quite a competent (even brilliant cast) skillful enough to, on several occasions, really bring out the sensation that you are a key element to the story – sometimes interacting with you in the most unexpected (yet natural and therefore praise worthy) manners. However, this great attribute is also overshadowed by an incorrect structuring of the narrative, a problem owned by mostly the second act, when the peformance becomes too linear and closer to the styles of regular proscenium theatre. For a great deal of the plot’s conclusion, you’re relegated to being just a spectator again. And when we’re referring not only to a genre where that’s the key thing to avoid, but to a tale with so many exciting possibilities to make it jump off the restraints of traditional fiction, that’s a major flaw.

With potential from both their creators and actors, The Great Gatsby has the tools to turn the place around and endowe it with the luxurious allure it deserves – regarding both looks and storytelling resources. Now that the show is flying to New York, producers may take this time to reconsider how to pay a fair homage to a work coming back home – and make full justice to a piece where less never means more.

All images credit to Kay Lockett.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The Great Gatsby Immersive Play will be performed until 7 January at the Gatsby Mansion, in London’s Bond Street area. Tickets are available on the following link.

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