The Great Gatsby’s attempt to reach beyond the potential limitations of student theatre to evoke the exciting yet extremely turbulent 1920s is nothing short of a success for Castle Theatre Company. All the minutest details of the play, ranging from the acting to music, costumes, setting and lighting, are taken into consideration by director Jennifer Fox to ensure that the audience is able to immediately immerse themselves into what initially appears to be the alluring glamour of the Roaring Twenties.
The wonderful costumes and relatively simple staging in the atmospheric Castle Great Hall alone are captivatingly evocative of the luxurious lifestyle led by the Buchanans and their circle of acquaintances. Creative Director Toni Qualey and Musical Director Tomek Edwards should be credited for their ability to constantly express the splendour of this period by relatively simple means, such as having music during scene changes to maintain the mood of the Jazz Age, or subtly washing the stage with green light to remind the audience of Jay Gatsby’s (Theo Holt-Bailey) never-ceasing idealisation of the Daisy Buchanan.
The production does not attain its praise merely through stylistic grandeur and sensationalism. Nick Chapman’s script constitutes what possibly deserves the most commendation of the entire production. Chapman is able to encapsulate the thematic complexity of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel through quick, sharp dialogue, modulating between the rather vapid excessive lifestyle of the Buchanans and parties at Gatsby’s mansion, and the deplorably dejected state of the Valley of Ashes and its inhabitants. Although Chapman alludes to the latter’s eerie quality through a conversation between Tom Buchanan (Ed Rees) and Nick Carraway (Owen Sparks), the scenes that take place in the Valley lose their full potential of bringing out the tragic subtleties of Chapman’s script through a lapse in staging. Whilst the rest of the play elaborately recreates the enchantment and animation of the Roaring Twenties with a relatively small cast and on a small stage—such as is to be admired during the dances at Gatsby’s grand parties—the scenes that take place in the Valley of Ashes lack a certain imagination in exposing its contrasting bleakness and solitude. The small image of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg’s eyes, hung almost at the very top of the back wall, fails to sufficiently emphasise this contrast between the idealised and failed American Dream.
Despite a wavering in the success of the staging, Sparks and Holt-Bailey quite remarkably sustain the individual nuances of their characters throughout the entire play, demonstrating a lasting energy that magnetizes the audience to their presence on stage. Without simply relying on a highly raised voice or excessive physicality to attract attention, their acting enables their presence to always be felt without overwhelming others on stage. This quality is essentially what allows secondary characters such as Jordan Baker (Natasha Yadav) and Catherine (Meg Osborne) to command the stage during their appearances. Their ease on stage was not consistently reflected in Olivia Ballantine-Smith’s Daisy Buchanan, who at times appeared tense and slightly too regulated in delivering her speeches. However, despite this occasional weakness, her charming and subtly whimsical aura as she moved about the stage strongly evoked her character’s symbolisation of the idealised, superficial splendour of the 1920s that so tragically attracted Gatsby.
The ability of Fox, alongside her production team and cast, to embrace the alluring grandiosity of the American Dream, whilst simultaneously highlighting its tragic implications on the lives of all those caught up in its onslaught of extravagance, demonstrates not only a full understanding of the thematic intricacies of Fitzgerald’s novel but a true understanding of how attention to detail and the sustainment of a lasting energy throughout can create a truly admirable production, deserving of as great an audience as possible.