If someone mentions Gatsby, what do you see? Well, dive into the mind of Emma Kay and this is what you get….

cheers gatsby hello emma kay
He’s an Oscar winner, you know? (FINALLY!)

With an invitation to watch Gatsby onstage, I seriously couldn’t refuse this one. The glamour, sparkles, Art Deco, greed, lust, love, tears, confusion, scandal, class, memories, corruption, gangster paradise…oh honey I’m living the American London dream. Running from London Blackfriars station (thanks Southern), I believed the streets were paved with gold.

We find Meyer Wolfshiem in his favourite ‘Speakeasy’ having received the ‘shock of his life’. “When a man gets killed – I keep out!” But this time there’s something else; something – or someone – that draws him into Gatsby’s world. Watch the characters of F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby come to life as they weave their way through the famous story and unravel the mystery that is Jay Gatsby. They may even share some of the gossip with you.
-Ruby in the Dust, 2016

Ruby in the Dust’s Gatsby talked the talk and walked the walk…whilst stumbling across a few dead ends and broken bottles teacups. The cast sang, performed, danced and played instruments so many fingers in many pies. Admiring constant costume changes, direct eye contact and unexpected musicianship, Gatsby had the guts and determination to bring the Roaring Twenties to The Union Theatre.

Desperately wanting to wear a flapper dress and join the banter, the cast groupie wandered outside the main doors to wet our appetites. Daring myself to take a selfie with them, they fluttered through the box office and bar with no real intention to stop and chat. With their echoes of chatter, laughter and Lucille’s shrills, this short, sharp pre-show interaction shook the tail feather of the Foyer’s ultimate audience hang out. Shaken not stirred, they babbled nonsense before waltzing back into their lair.

Gatsby (c) Roy Tan (4)
Gatsby at the Union Theatre. Photo credit: Roy Tan

Walking into the smoky darkness, flowers garlands twirled around the iron pillars and the huge “GATSBY” signage reigned the wall. The set was dressed for a seedy yet classy diamond in the rough performance. The complex maze of Jack Weir’s lighting design from above fired many colour wars onstage, shedding some light upon tensed scenes and conjuring fascinating smoke spirits from Nick Carraway’s cigarette.

With a bandstand, piano, chaise lounge and draped golden tablecloths, we swanned into an exclusive club setting. Kudos to the live band, it was an intimate, secret love affair with live music. Unlocking the keys to my body, Joe Evans played that piano with such sophisticated ooze, sharpening, flattening and stringing my heart along to his sweet tune. The cast also collaborated to become a big band: Emma Whittaker (Stella) on cello and violin, Joanna Brown (Daisy Buchanan) on clarinet, Nicolas Fagerberg (Jay Gatsby) on guitar, Blair Robertson (Nick Carraway) on saxophone, Katie Beudert (Catherine) on trumpet and Kate Marlais (Jordan Baker) on violin. This surely deserves a round of applause.

At times, these instrumental talents suddenly became headstrong and clashed with the sing song. Little voices drowned and struggled to resurface with the band, but the singing was good. Finalising the chunky blocks of scenes, the musical numbers carried some emotional baggage, especially Nick Carraway’s Your World creating a pause breaker.

Gatsby (c) Roy Tan (2)
Blair Robertson (Nick Carraway) and Ferne McCann (Myrtle Wilson) in Gatsby. Photo credit: Roy Tan

My three Gatsby angles were Kate Marlais’ Jordan Baker, Joanna Brown’s Daisy Buchanan and Samantha Louise Clark’s Lucille. Jordan Baker had great control over her relationship with Nick Carraway and friendship with Daisy Buchanan. Playing the sides, her awkwardness over Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby’s heated finale gave her silence power. It’s true what they say action speaks louder than words. Desperate for her friend’s happiness, Daisy Buchanan was trapped in the love triangle of doom and allowed her head rule her heart. She rejected Jay Gatsby for her cheating husband. It’s always at this point I mentally scream “Noooooo! What you doing?!” and then I have to let it go…defreeze. Lucille was the squeaking showgirl with bursts of energy, which happy slapped Gatsby right across the cheeks. Her voice may annoy some, but she was my perfect antidote for some legal high.

Gatsby’s dramatic story was a little downplayed and time began to drag, but Gatsby’s butlers soon perked me up as they caused a sudden comical flower explosion. Setting the romantic scene for Gatsby to meet Daisy, Blair Robertson’s Nick extends the comedy as Daisy misunderstands the gesture. Comedy mixed with shock, this scene was a gem and a smile raiser.

Gatsby (c) Roy Tan (1)
Ferne McCann (Myrtle Wilson) and James Rallison (George Wilson) in Gatsby. Photo credit: Roy Tan.

With an essence of Jessica Rabbit, Ferne McCann’s Myrtle Wilson teased the guns of macho and pumped crashes of testosterone. Greeting Nick and Tom at the gas pump, she upped the flirtation, but downplayed the drama and desperation. At times, she was just a wandering soul and her backstory sacrificed to a lip pout. Trapped in her All Seeing Eyes duet with her abusive husband, there was an emotional slither of a human, helpless heart. When this glimmer of potential shone…BANG!… she was out of the doors to get run over (not intentionally of course!)

Gatsby (c) Roy Tan (3)
Joanna Brown (Daisy Buchanan) and Nicolas Fagerberg (Jay Gatsby) in Gatsby. Photo credit: Roy Tan

Gatsby was a cute nod with a little twinkle in its eye. The musical possesses a flicker of the green light after it finds its first gear. With few more test runs, we may hear this musical’s roar. Doughnutting many theatre critics’ Cenotaph, Gatsby should be seen by different eyes. Personally, Gatsby was a light hearted, sprinkled delight. The cast meant no harm, but were enthusiastic and devoted to performing this glamorous tragic tale. Gatsby’s director, Linnie Reedman, said “It is always tempting to try to convey the spirit of a beautiful tragic story to the stage”. I love a woman who tries and Gatsby was enjoyable. It just needed to tighten its light bulbs and BOOM you’ve got The Great Gatsby.

Big thanks to Chris Hislop.
Book your tickets to see Gatsby at The Union Theatre here. Closes on 30 April.


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