BY PALOMA LACY
It was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I went to the theatre for the first time in this new Covid world.
What would it be like?
How would I maintain social distance to other theatre-goers on the way to my seat?
That this was an “immersive” theatre experience, where the cast break the fourth wall and allow the audience to play a role, made this seem even more complicated.
The Great Gatsby at Gatsby’s Mansion is styled as London’s longest-running immersive theatre show.
There were some advantages to adapting to the new world: the set was a permanent structure, Gatsby’s mansion as the main theatre, which meant people could socially distance without it looking odd.
I was sitting at the bar as if I were a reveller at one of Gatsby’s parties, the people opposite me in a sunken sofa, like party-goers who had gone off for a quiet moment.
A smaller audience than normal was in attendance, of course, but not obviously so.
The audience were required to wear masks throughout, which felt strange, even though the show creatively tried to incorporate the instruction into its dialogue (“Mr Gatsby’s rules”) but of course they don’t make the rules.
Most of the time I was satisfied that in was in 1920s America, with an immaculately dressed set and cast, a fantasy punctured only by the sight of masks and paying for drinks by touching my card.
I heard a rumour that the show had tried to make it into a “masked ball” in order to make it Covid-secure.
If this was true, not everyone got the memo, as while some people commendably dressed up, most were wearing decidedly 21st-century face-gear.
But these were but minor quibbles in a wonderfully fun night.
It was an explosion of great song, dance, colour, and theatre, a recreation of the decadence of Jazz-Age millionaire parties.
The attempts to tell the story through that felt more difficult, sometimes a bit forced.
Perhaps a way to resolve that, as well as providing that “immersive” experience, was in the periodic moments where the cast led certain audience members into side-rooms.
Here, plotlines were developed in a way that cleverly involved the audience; I was led into an intimate purple room where the affair between Tom and Myrtle was exposed.
Generally, the cast’s ability to roll with audience reaction to maintain momentum in the plot was impressive.
The side-room episodes were strange moments as well though, especially as spectators in the main hall where suddenly a row of people would suddenly start filing out in a manner of a fire alarm.
Sometimes, the cast started talking to audience members as asides in the main hall, which could either look like neat touches or absurdities.
At one point, upon being engaged by the character Jordan talking about when Gatsby and Daisy first met, I didn’t know whether I was intended to “act” as a flashback Gatsby or just an anonymous person at the party.
As for Gatsby, he looked the part but I’m not sure he was as mysterious or enigmatic as he was meant to be in the book.
Carraway’s character started strongly but faded into a bit-part person by the end.
My favourites were Myrtle, particularly excellent in the side-room; George, her husband, whose piano playing and singing was a real highlight; and the lovely Daisy.
While the verbal exchanges may have been slightly fraught at times, the song-and-dance pieces were excellent, real show-stoppers.
I’ll leave it to the purists to dissect whether it was completely faithful to the novel, but it worked well enough for me.
After a year in which I wondered whether I would ever see live theatre, this was a real tonic.
* The Great Gatsby have cancelled shows due to the lockdown restrictions and will return on Thursday, December 3, 2020, and the booking period for the show has been extended through to Sunday, February 28 2021. Ticket holders for cancelled performances will be contacted by Arts Tickets to confirm next steps. Go to www.immersivegatsby.com for full details.
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