F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby explores decadence, duplicity and desperation, and where better to do that nowadays than in a central London bar?
In their own way, Fitzgerald’s books have become as synonymous with the Jazz Age as Saturday Night Fever has with the disco era. In Gatsby, he takes us to the Great Neck peninsula on Long Island known locally as West Egg.
It is there that Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire with mysterious origins, has bought a place opposite the home of Daisy Buchanan, a woman whom he loved as a youth and is now married to Tom. Through the eyes of Gatsby’s neighbour (and Daisy’s sister) Nick Carraway, we are drawn into an intimate study of human foibles and ambitions which also holds a mirror up to the American Dream.
Created by Alexander Wright and Brian Hook’s The Guild of Misrule in collaboration with Immersive Anywhere (Doctor Who: Time Fracture), this production is now the UK’s longest-running immersive show, having been going since 2016 – first in York and then later at the VAULT Festival the following year before migrating to its current Mayfair abode.
Transforming one of the finest American novels of the last century into interactive theatre is no mean feat. The high points of the book and its more profound themes are explored within a hullabaloo of a party complete with wild dancing, cocktails on tap and a sultry chanteuse or two.
As Carraway, Hugh Stubbins acts as our personal psychopomp, pumping out exposition and contemporary insights as the story moves to its nightmarish conclusion. Unlike the novel, though, Carraway isn’t our sole narrator, and the fractured nature of the show means that we see the action unfold through the eyes of other characters.
The venue’s ballroom is the starting and end point of the evening. It is here that we are introduced to Jay, Nick et al and we can engage in some genial hoofing, order drinks and check out the outfits of the other partygoers. Dressing up is encouraged but not mandatory, as are face masks.
Once the scene has been set, some of the audience are pulled away into one of the antechambers for a close-up view of a particular scene before being returned to the main area. Since these more intimate interactions happen simultaneously, there’s no way anyone will see everything on a first or even second visit. This has the potential to engender FOMO but means that there is definite value in coming back to this production.
Stubbins’ Carraway is a high point in this refreshed cast, which features superlative acting across the board. As a passionate and charismatic Gatsby, Elliot Liburd already has form when it comes to immersive shows, having worked with Punchdrunk and Les Enfants Terribles.
Greg Fossard is a charming Rosy Rosenthal, Alex Wingfield an explosive Tom Buchanan and Aimee Barrett stands out as doomed bartender Myrtle Wilson; whether doling out steamy sass in a backroom or confronting her lovers, there’s enough fire in those eyes to burn down the Empire State Building.
Image: Mark Senior