London, United Kingdom
Cast : Adam Jowett, Tristan Pate, Celia Cruwys Finnigan, Celeste de Veazy, Tom Neil, Stacey Ghent, Max Roll
Produced by Adrian McDougall
Directed by Eliot Giuralarocca
Stage adaptation - Stephen Sharkey
Musical Director - Ellie Verkerk
Set Designer - Victoria Spearing
Lighting Design -Charlotte McClelland
Movement Director - Bronya Deutsch
Costume Design - Jenny Little
Projection Design - Stephen Harrison
Director's programme note
When Adrian McDougall asked me to direct The Great Gatsby I was delighted and daunted in equal measure. Daunted by the novel’s status as one of the greatest ever American novels and a seminal work of the Jazz Age - a term F.Scott Fitzgerald coined, - but delighted, because I absolutely adore this beautifully crafted tale. It possesses a cool, sexy and almost dream-like quality, with a mood of witty, vivacious self destruction. It's a strange, cynical work, sophisticated, full of poetry and memorable throw-away phrases and populated by completely unforgettable characters. It follows one man’s great dream and shows how things get swept along in it’s wake. It’s a strange love story that unfolds and draws us in. Cynical detachment is mixed with intrigue and the exciting sense of what is possible. This is a world where strangers meet, compliment each other on their hair, kiss passionately and move on without comment, where huge parties can be enjoyed because they are so intimate. Fitzgerald gives us glamour in all it’s seductive glory and hints at the moral emptiness that lies just beneath the shimmering surface. We are in the summer of 1923, a time of wild excess, when, as the New York Times noted, 'gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession’, an era in which the chaos and violence of world war I had given way to an unrestrained materialism.
Stephen Sharkey’s adaptation has brilliantly captured, shaped and distilled Fitzgerald’s exquisite writing into a muscular, narrative-driven text that stays very true to the rhythm, feeling, sensuality and ebb and flow of the novel. We’ve added music into this heady mix, interweaving songs that would have been current at the time - indeed music that the characters may well have heard at one of Gatsby’s parties. Amongst other things the play is about fantasy and the push and pull between reality, illusion and self delusion and we’ve allowed ourselves the freedom to serve the material theatrically with moments of heightened realism and sensuality that amplifies a scene or situation. I was very keen to create a real ensemble piece of storytelling with the performers on stage acting, singing, playing the music live and creating the sights and sounds of the Jazz Age in front of you as you watch. I very much hope that fans of the novel will be pleased with what we’ve done and those that have never read it will want to after seeing the show!
Creating a piece of theatre never happens in isolation and I have had the great good fortune to work with some wonderfully patient and creative collaborators. My thanks to Ellie Verkerk for the beautiful orchestration and direction of the music, Jenny Little for her stunning costume designs that adorn Victoria Spearing's stylish Art Deco inspired set, Bronya Deutsch for literally keeping the cast on their toes with her movement direction, Stephen Harrison for his imaginative projection design, Charlotte McClelland for lighting everything so beautifully and Chantal Addley for sourcing and producing the props with such care. And of course, a huge thanks to Blackeyed Theatre for giving me the opportunity to work with such a wonderfully talented cast who have made creating this show such a pleasure and who have thrown themselves into the project with such commitment, passion and generosity of spirit.
Beguiling and Captivating…deeply enjoyable.
Riveting and worth traveling far too see!
Truly electrifying theatre. The roaring twenties atmosphere is superbly captured…Brimming with fine acting ability.
Beautifully crafted…A masterpiece of timing. This production is a must-see for fans of the ensemble piece.
A beautiful production that’s high in both style and substance - a fitting tribute to Fitzgerald’s original text.
London Theatre Bloggers
Dundee Review of the Arts
A Sparkling ‘Jazz Age’ snapshot…immensely accomplished.
Rich in entertainment and stylish in every aspect…an enthralling watch. Yellow Advertiser
Polished performances by a versatile cast.
Has wit, sparkle and some fine performances.
A memorable evening, I urge you not to miss it!
Talent-packed…rewardingly rich entertainment.
The actors were faultless
An Impressive show from Blackeyed Theatre
Paul in London
Jan 26 - 27 The Playhouse
Weston-Super-Mare 01934 645544
Jan 28 - 30 Theatre Severn
Shrewsbury 01743 281281
Feb 2 - 3 Corn Exchange
Newbury 0845 5218 218
Feb 4 - 6 The Haymarket
Basingstoke 01256 844244
Feb 9 - 13 Derby Theatre
Derby 01332 593939
Feb 16 - 17 Theatre By The Lake
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Feb 23 - 27 Harrogate Theatre
Harrogate 01423 502116
Feb 29 - Mar 2 Harlow Playhouse
Harlow 01279 431945
Mar 3 - 4 Performing Arts Centre
Lincoln 01522 837600
Mar 9 The Woodville
Gravesend 01474 337459
Mar 11 - 12 Ashcroft Theatre
Croydon 020 8688 9291
Mar 15 - 16 Town Hall
Loughborough 01509 231914
Mar 17 - 19 Theatre Royal
Windsor 01753 853888
Past Performances : Autumn 2015
Sept 8-12 Devonshire Park Theatre
Eastbourne 01323 412000
Sept 15 - 16 Stahl Theatre
Oundle 01832 273930
Sept 17 - 19 Theatre Royal
Bury St Edmunds 01284769505
Sept 22-23 Tacchi Morris Arts Centre, Taunton 01823 414141
Sept 24 - 26 Wilde Theatre
Bracknell 01344 484123
Sept 29 - 30 The Castle
Wellingborough 01933 270007
Oct 2 - 3 The Atkinson
Southport 01704 533333
Oct 6 - 10 Greenwich Theatre
Greenwich 020 8858 7755
Oct 13 - 14 Artsdepot
Finchley 020 8369 5454
Oct 15 - 17 New Theatre Royal
Portsmouth 023 9264 9000
Oct 19 - 20 New Barn Theatre
Milton Abbey School 01258 882322
Oct 22 - 24 Connaught Theatre
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Oct 27 - 28 Adam Smith Theatre
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Oct 29 - 30 Brunton Theatre
Musselburgh 0131 665 2240
Nov 2 - 6 Dundee Rep Theatre
Dundee 01382 223530
Nov 10 - 11 Octagon Theatre
Yeovil 01935 422884
Nov 12 - 14 Towngate Theatre
Basildon 01268 465465
Nov 18 Theatre Royal
Margate 01843 292795
Nov 23 - 25 Arena Theatre
Wolverhampton 01902 321321
Nov 27 - 28 Palace Theatre
Newark 01636 655755
Nov 30 - Dec 2 Mumford Theatre
Cambridge 01223 352932
Dec 4 - 5 Queen's Hall
Hexham 01434 65247
Over seven months the show visited 35 venues, played 115 performances to 25,815 people & travelled 5,450 miles!
I was delighted and daunted in equal measure when I was asked to direct Blackeyed Theatre’s production of The Great Gatsby. Over the past decade the company has built up a national reputation for producing innovative, exciting and challenging theatre, often using actor-musicians to tell it’s stories with integrity and passion and the Great Gatsby, rooted as it is in the musicality of America's 'Jazz Age’, felt like a great fit with the company’s ethos. I’d studied the novel at school and it had left me with a lasting admiration for Fitzgerald’s work. I love the cool, sexy, almost dream like quality it has. It’s strange, cynical and sophisticated, full of poetry, memorable throw-away phrases and populated by completely unforgettable characters. There is always a certain pressure in taking on a novel that everyone seems to know and love but I knew that I had to do it and I can’t wait for rehearsals to start!
How faithful is the stage production to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original
The writer Stephen Sharkey has delivered a fantastic theatrical adaptation that stays very faithful to Fitzgerald’s original novel. With F. Scott Fitzgerald’s exquisite writing, where not a word seems to be wasted, it serves no purpose to try and invent things that were never there or reinterpret them for a modern setting. Instead the genius is in choosing which fine dishes to serve from a banquet of possibilities and to that end, Sharkey has shaped and distilled the work into a muscular, narrative-driven text that stays very true to the rhythm, feeling, sensuality and ebb and flow of the novel.
We’ve added into the mix music and songs from the period, movement, dance and projection and allowed ourselves the freedom to serve the material theatrically with moments of heightened realism and sensuality. We’ve set the play firmly in the summer of 1923 reflected in Jenny Little’s gorgeous costumes and chosen music that would have been current or contemporaneous to the period, lovingly arranged for the production by musical director Ellie Verkerk. The whole creative team has approached this production from the beginning with what I hope is a marriage of imagination and integrity in order to bring Gatsby and the America of the 20’s roaring into life. I very much hope that fans of the novel will be pleased with what we’ve done and those that have never read it will want to after seeing the show!
What are the challenges with directing this adaptation?
I was very keen to create a real ensemble piece of storytelling with the performers on stage acting, singing, playing the music live and creating the sights and sounds of the period right there in front of you as you watch. For me, part of the beauty and excitement of theatre is that it is a shared experience with the audience; it’s happening now, there, right in front of your eyes. As a medium, it’s the vital ingredient that makes going to the theatre a different experience from going to a film or watching TV. To that end we have cast a fantastically talented team of versatile performers who can all sing, move and who play numerous instruments between them. Part of the challenge for me is to work
out what theatrical language we are going to use to tell the story and how we can integrate the music, songs and dances of the period into the action seamlessly and in a way that brings the period to life. Getting that balance right artistically will be a challenge! There are also practical challenges like working out who will be available to play and who for example will need to be rushing offstage to change costumes and i’m sure they'll be times when it will feel like directing traffic in Piccadilly Circus!
The story also throws up the challenge of presenting many different changes of location. Scenes are set in different houses or hotels, in indoor spaces and at outdoor parties as well as on trains and in moving cars. Rather than trying to produce a set that literally reflected this, I made the decision, in collaboration with Victoria Spearing the set designer, to try and keep our space as open and uncluttered as possible. I'm a great believer that theatre is often most potent when it is most simple and I think one of my main tasks will be to try and find an economical but theatrically inventive language with which to move the action from one location to the next and to try and create a fluid yet dynamic environment aided by Charlotte McClelland’s lighting and Stephen Harrison’s projection design that helps shape the audiences’ imagination and captures the rhythms and changes of mood and pace in the script.
And last but not least, there is always the challenge to have fun, to make the rehearsal room a space where the actors can really play, discover, create and ultimately take ownership of the material themselves.
From the moment that Adrian McDougall commissioned the script we set ourselves the task of interweaving the music and songs of the 20’s into the production and creating an ensemble of actor-musicians that could sing, play instruments and bring the period to life with style and flair. Jenny Little’s gorgeous costumes stay true to the period and we’ve chosen music that the characters may well have been heard at one of Gatsby’s parties. The novel is cool and sexy, almost stylised, with a mood of witty, vivacious self destruction. It follows one mans great dream and shows how things get swept along in it’s wake. Amongst other things, it’s a story about fantasy and the push and pull of reality, illusion and self delusion. Cool, cynical detachment is mixed with intrigue and the exciting sense of what is possible. We are in a world where strangers meet, compliment each other on their hair, kiss passionately and move on without comment, where huge parties can be enjoyed because they are so intimate. We’ve allowed ourselves the freedom to serve the material theatrically and have used projection, movement, music and song to create moments of heightened and sensual realism that amplifies a scene or situation and allows the audience to glimpse the passion that lies beneath the surface.
How did you go about creating a vision for the set and costumes?
I worked closely with Victoria Spearing the set designer, Charlotte McClellan the lighting designer and Jenny Little the costume designer to come up with a visual language for the production. I knew from the start that I wanted the costumes to be authentically period as I thought that would be a vital ingredient for grounding the piece firmly in the roaring 20’s and giving the audience that gorgeous and colourful visual flavour. Likewise I thought that it was important that the set had a sense of style and sophistication associated with the 1920’s and gave a nod to the Art Deco fashion current at the time
For storytelling reasons I also knew that I wanted to keep the space as open and uncluttered as possible, to allow the myriad changes of scene to be imaginative and fluid rather than literal. The challenge was to try and come up with a design that did this while still creating a plausible space for Gatsby’s mansion, the Valley of ashes as well as all the other locations that the play takes us to. Victoria’s solution is I think, elegant, flexible and economical giving the audience just enough visually to stimulate their imaginations without being too prescriptive. The Art Deco inspired set with black and white shining monochrome surfaces will I hope throw into sharp relief the colourful costumes and the addition of a Grand piano, lots of steps, carefully placed hanging lights and and sparingly chosen pieces of furniture, will I believe give the space a sense of grandeur without it becoming too cluttered. Torn strips of material on the back wall give us a canvas to project onto and Charlotte McClellan’s lighting along with Stephen Harrison’s video projections will I hope allow us to create a sense of space, scale and mood as well as helping solve that director’s nightmare of how to stage scenes in cars!
What parallels can be drawn between the 1920s world of Gatsby and the apparent class divide today?
There is no doubt that money and wealth in the Great Gatsby are hugely important. Tom gives Daisy a set of pearls worth 350,000 dollars and weds her with 'more pomp and circumstance than Louisville ever knew before.” The penniless Gatsby doesn’t just need to have money he needs to convince Daisy that he has always had money. That he comes from the right class. Indeed he dedicates his life to that one aim. But when the moment comes, when his dream is tantalisingly within reach we see that his Rolls Royce, his Hydro-plane, his vast mansion, his beautiful shirts, his huge parties populated by celebrities and the great and the good, turn out to be very light when weighed against the charge that he is a common bootlegger associated with criminality. He is not from the right family, he doesn’t have the right background, he’s 'new money’, from West Egg, not East
As Tom scornfully and triumphantly tells Gatsby “I’ll be damned if you ever got within a mile of (Daisy) unless you brought the groceries to the back door”.
While I was thinking about the world that Gatsby inhabits and the uneasy relationship of morals to money and class to capitalism I opened a newspaper. The Independent 30th July 2015. “Prince George’s £18,000 birthday gift speaks volumes about Britain’s widening wealth gap” was the headline. A Wendy house in the back garden that cost more than many peoples annual wage. Olivia Acland wrote “It makes one wince to imagine adored George perched on his oak floor while other children are dumped in after school crèches by harried single parents struggling to earn enough to support them (and losing much of their wages on childcare while they're at it.) If George were to flog his new plaything on e-bay and do without his portable palace, then he’d be able buy wooden Wendy-houses for 225 under privileged children. Not only might that give a few kids the present of their lives, but it also might afford him some perspective which the rest of his family are quite clearly sorely lacking”.
I think the question of what parallels there are between our society and Gatsby’s is probably best left for critics and social historians to ponder. The relationship between money... morals…class...we’re possibly not as far away from the Jazz age as we might think.
What can the audience expect from this production?
Stephen Sharkey has shaped and distilled Fitzgerald’s novel into a muscular and narrative-driven portrait of the Jazz Age, full of cool, sexy, stiletto-sharp dialogue as cool as ice in a cocktail. Throw into the mix the work of our wonderful design team along with an ensemble of seven fabulously talented actors, who all sing, dance and play instruments, and I hope we have all the ingredients needed to give the audience a wonderful party and bring Fitzgerald’s Great American masterpiece roaring into life.
Video courtesy of Blackeyed Theatre
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