American Literature, Donald Trump, Edinburgh Fringe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Greenside, Harry Bradley, Harry Pavlou, Laura Jayne Bateman, Modernism, Nick Gill, Nottingham New Theatre, Sasha Butler, Sophie Walton, The Great Gatsby, Theatre Review
The voice of Nick Carraway, the narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, has always played in my mind as calm and dry. In this adaptation by Nottingham New Theatre, however, Nick Gill’s Carraway bellows those lines which I have been waiting half the show to savour: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness…”
If the drama of Fitzgerald’s story is occasionally conveyed too loudly or with exaggerated passion, well, this is common to karaoke. The Great Gatsby has been dramatised so many times by now that no production can today evade its status as karaoke. But an NNT production is the very opposite of a “vast carelessness” and its actors are the very opposite of careless people. “The Great Gatsby,” which is currently appearing on alternate days at Greenside on the Royal Terrace, is performed with that stylistic precision which is effectively the NNT’s corporate gloss. Indeed, in a 1920s context the production’s wrought ornamentation is distinctly reminiscent of Art Deco.
In the past, I have sometimes found NNT plays to be stylistically preoccupied and only manoeuvring the story with their fingertips. Initially “The Great Gatsby” looks like it is too distant from the novel’s drama, with clipped, jerky interactions between the characters and the twinkly-toed dancing out-dazzling Fitzgerald’s lines. TV Bomb’s Jonny Sweet faults the “unanimously unconvincing” American accents. They are necessary, else this would be Vile Bodies, but you are not conscious of the artificiality after the first thirty seconds of the show. There is otherwise as much of the 1920s as can be expressed by five actors, some chairs, and a screen. It also comes with that sunshine electronica which you associate with Brighton and bands such as Flevans, Mint Royale, and Lemon Jelly, a vibe which mashes up old dancehall music with 90s foam party beats.
Yet the fairy lights soon dim and real bears begin to emerge from behind the inflatable palm trees. Harry Bradley must be highly tempted to shoo the dumb and incandescent Tom Buchanan into a Donald Trump comfort zone, but he actually gets far more out of this character. Harry Pavlou achieves the perfect mixture of aloof charm and sore vulnerability as Jay Gatsby, whilst Sophie Walton makes an equally vivid, and classically beautiful Daisy.
So when we reach that ultimate scene downtown, in the heat of the hotel room, this play is slowed down and walking firmly on the floor and the drama is enthralling. The move from style to drama also reflects the force of Fitzgerald’s grouse that beneath all of the decadence of the 1920s lay the same old feudal conflicts and bitterness.
And the modern relevance? “They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” It could be Trump’s presidency in a sentence.