The Wardrobe Ensemble’s The Great Gatsby, directed by Tom Brennan with assistance from Frazer Meakin, is a unique reimagining of Fitzgerald’s Great American Novel. A two woman show, performed by Tamsin Hurtado Clarke and Jesse Meadows, this brilliant reinterpretation blends the 1920s story with modern themes and references to create a special and entertaining piece of theatre which breathes new life into a familiar cast of characters.
The piece opens with images of fireworks and scenes of partying from various eras. The hedonistic events shown feel so long ago in today’s world, and when we see Meadows, lying alone on the stage with clothes and wine bottles strewn around, the loneliness of our recent isolation is brought to the fore.
As Meadows gets up and begins cleaning up the alcohol laden mess around her, she pauses when she notices the iconic green lightbulb flickering on the ceiling. Clarke appears and the two begin telling the story, raising a glass to each of the nine chapters of the novel in turn.
Both characters multi-role throughout the piece, and Nick Carraway is brought to life by Meadows. Her cold and matter of fact narration, combined with a deliberate holding back of emotion, illustrates the trauma Carraway feels regarding the whole story and a detachment that he is using to distance himself from that trauma.
Clarke brings life to the mysterious and friendly Gatsby. She handles the role with a softness of manner and a palpable desperation which brings the darkness plaguing his mind to the surface.
Meadows and Clarke seamlessly transform into various characters, with a masterful changes of accent and postures. Subtle changes of costume, body language and demeanour, allow them to bring life to a wide range of people. Bold and expressive dance is utilised to create Gatsby’s lavish parties, and some period appropriate Charleston moves as a delicate nod back to the 1920s.
Glittery clothing hints at the 1920s era and sound effects are combined with minimal props to cleverly create the world of Gatsby, Daisy and their friends in West Egg and East Egg. Lots of alcohol related paraphernalia reminds us of the decadence within the story and the small two-seater sofa becomes a horse, swimming pool and cars. Toy cars and boats illustrate the actual smallness of the characters’ sphere and create a sense that they are being played with in a world where they have little to no control.
Lighting is further utilised to illustrate changes in mood, switching from darkness to light and back again and the characters’ emotions fly up and down. Arguments are able to take place “behind closed doors” mimed on a darkened stage accompanied by violent drum solos. Live painting of the scenery on state is an original and interesting touch which allows the actors to change the set without any break in the action.
The Great Gatsby is a wryly funny piece of theatre which looks at how the interactions of society are very similar to how they were a hundred years ago. Poignant and enjoyable, it takes you through Gatsby’s emotional relationship with Daisy and her tumultuous marriage to Tom, and through to the bleak loneliness of the other side. As relevant today as a century ago, The Great Gatsby is a heartbreaking tale of unrequited love, self-indulgence, greed, and the generosity inspired by all three.
The Great Gatsby is being streamed by Brighton Fringe until 27th June 2021. Tickets are available here https://www.brightonfringe.org/whats-on/the-great-gatsby-153733/
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 7th June 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★