F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is considered to be one of the greatest classic novels of all time, and its movie adaptations have always been greatly received too: the 2013 remake starring Leonardo DiCaprio, notably, was a cinematic masterpiece which captured the hollow decadence of a society borne out of the Roaring 20s. With these onscreen successes in mind, bringing such a pivotal piece of literature to the stage is an appealing prospect to theatregoers regular and less so – enter Northern Ballet, whose production of The Great Gatsby visits Cardiff’s New Theatre.
A new-money millionaire, who goes by the name of Gatsby, has a partiality for the upper-crust lifestyle of the 1920s – and a fixation on Daisy, the golden girl whom he lost many years ago prior to acquiring his fortune. Through the narration of Nick, the audience can observe – and occasionally immerse themselves in – the lifestyle of such carefree, and subsequently careless, individuals as the tale progresses.
Gatsby, set in a time when prohibition was rife, depicted a culture of excess and its hyper-fixation on affluence – yet here, the staging is surprisingly minimal, rather than embodying the flamboyance of the era. Still, there was just enough decor so as to not detract from the ballet itself, and the outfits were bursting with class. Effortless performers, laced in Chanel-inspired costumes, dance with consummate elegance. As the ballet commences, the heavy strings of a live orchestra lend a transcendental feel. Narrator Nick, performed by Sean Bates, makes this an easier watch, retaining a softness even while thrust into the vigour of the attendant lifestyle.
Throughout this performance, tragedy ensues as the façade of such flamboyance wears thin. There were truly seamless performances from the dancers, who adopted blasé attitudes with such charisma. The sequence of Myrtle and Wilson particularly resonates: Myrtle’s dance tended to be provocative and seemingly desperate, indicative of her insatiable nature, whereas her husband incorporated emotive, all-encompassing contemporary dance, vividly yearning for her. Blessed with someone who loved her right before her eyes, the striving for wealth caused Myrtle to be blind to this.
This production encapsulated Fitzgerald’s imagery and scene-setting, yet also touched upon the underlying enigmatic themes: immense loneliness and disillusionment from chasing the unattainable American Dream. Whilst the Roaring 20s were a decade like no other, The Great Gatsby retains plenty of relevance. In this fast-paced material age, dusted with transience and people striving for ‘the next best thing,’ we could perhaps take heed of this novel’s message.
Elegant yet flamboyant, soothing yet unnerving, this stage production was truly a joy to watch and made for a captivating night at the theatre. As the play came to an end, I sensed a communal appreciation for the way in which a classic novel has been typified through movement.
New Theatre, Cardiff, Tue 7 June
The Great Gatsby is on until Sat 11 June. Tickets: £21-£45. Info: here
words INGA MARSDEN for BUZZ CULTURE
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