Gatsby, Union Theatre - Musical Review

Whether you've read F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel or not, chances are you've seen at least one of the film adaptations of The Great Gatsby with either Robert Redford or Leonard Di Caprio. As the story naturally takes place in the 1920s – the Jazz Age – developing the story as a musical on the surface seems a natural development. Taking place at the Union Theatre in London (which has a long track record of producing revivals of classic theatre, as well as new material) Gatsby has been developed by theatre company Ruby In The Dust, under the direction of Linnie Reedman.

Traditionally, the focus of the story is on socialite Daisy Buchanan, Jay Gatsby –  her mysterious former lover and Nick Carroway – Daisy's cousin and Gatsby's neighbour, and yet in many respects on the periphery of things.

Yet within the tale there's another natural threesome that offers an alternative to Carroway's outsider's perspective: Myrtle Wilson (the wife of mechanic George Wilson who Daisy's husband Tom is having an affair with), Daisy's sister Catherine and Jordan Baker – a woman who earns her living (an extremely unusual activity for the independently wealthy!) as a golfer and offers a counterpoint to Carrowa­y.

Within this particular production of Gatsby, Jordan Baker is played with assuredness by Kate Marlais  and Joanna Brown nails Daisy's superficiality while living under the delusion of being worldly (encapsulated in her song "Sophisticated").

The whole cast are comprised of actor-musicians and Emma Whittaker, Katie Beudert, Samantha Louise Clark – who make up the female contingent of the ensemble – show great talent as they jump seamlessly between singing, dancing and playing an assortment of instruments – sometimes on stage as well. Their mingling with the audience in the bar area before the show  is also a nice touch.

If there's one thing that diluted my enjoyment of the evening, it is unfortunately that the singing is sometimes drowned out by the playing of the instruments, which is not something you want to happen in an intimate venue like the Union. Perhaps press night jitters are to blame for the softer singing and lack of a certain je nais se quoi which any big show should have. However, I'm sure the cast can and will address this side of things as increased confidence will naturally boost their enjoyment of the roles and vice versa. On paper, Ferne McCann (of TOWIE fame) has the least professional experience of singing, yet she as Myrtle could be heard singing clearly throughout. Her character – a counterpoint to the calm, restrained monied social circles on the East Coast – wears her passion for all to see and it's this fearless demeanour that would inject in the rest of the show the joie de vivre of the Roaring Twenties.

Musicals are arguably the hardest forms of theatre to produce. While there is great leeway with a play's style and its emotional range, musicals are usually only referred to as "hits" or "misses", with very little middle ground. Ruby In The Dust's Gatsby is on the surface very faithful to the original book, but where as 'straight plays' can afford the luxury of subtler, nuanced observations, the job of a musical by its very nature is to make its audience feel and transport them to somewhere else emotionally. That can only happen if they're emotionally invested in its core characters. In a musical, emotionally-distant characters can be too coy for their own good.

© Michael Davis 2016

Gatsby runs at the Union Theatre until 30th April 2016.


Ruby In The Dust present

Music & Lyrics by Joe Evans
Book by Linnie Reedman
6th to 30th April 2016
Tuesday - Saturday @ 7.30pm | Saturday/Sunday @ 2.30pm
In alphabetical order by first name
Blair Robertson, Emma Whittaker, Ferne Mccann, James Rallison, Joanna Brown, Kate Marlais, Katie Beudert, Lewis Rae, Mark Townsend, Nicolas Fagerberg, Paul Dubois, Samantha Louise Clark, Zed Josef

Author's review: