This is The Great Gatsby as you’ve never seen it before

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

Scott Fitzgerald could never have imagined the avalanche of adaptations that would cling to the starched shirt-tails of his 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. Plays, films, musicals, an opera and even a ballet have milked and re-milked the characters, the opulent setting and the tale of failed love. Now comes a Gatsby as you’ve never seen it before: one that has the great man and Daisy, his true love, played by two aerialists.

The improbable idea of drawing on Fitzgerald’s novel for a cabaret/variety show came from Ebony Bott, the Sydney Opera House’s head of contemporary performance, after co-creators Craig Ilott and Stuart Couzens successfully crafted a show called L’Hotel last year.

Fruit flies: Juggler Florian Brooks shows off his skills at The Green Light.Credit: Prudence Upton

“We were never trying to do a full theatrical adaptation,” says Ilott, who also directed Michael Sheen in Amadeus at the Opera House a year ago. “In fact, whenever I hear ‘adaptation’ I come out in a bit of a rash, mainly because our form has its limitations. At the same time, though, that form is fantastic. That vaudeville form of variety and that transaction with the audience is terrific: ‘Wait five minutes, and maybe I’ll love the next act.’ There’s a leniency with that which you don’t get in opera and theatre.”

The essence of the book that Ilott and Couzens focused on – to the exclusion of the other characters – is the love story, presented from Gatsby’s point of view, and reimagined in a contemporary setting, “as if,” says Ilott, “the spirit of Gatsby lives on in this endless search for his Daisy.“

The protagonists, played by Beau Sargent and Elke Uhd, are joined by other aerialists, burlesque performers, dancers and the singer Odette: entertainers employed by Gatsby to attract people, and thereby Daisy, to his home.

The contemporary nightclub music was a collaboration with Kim Moyes of The Presets, with whom Couzens had worked before. “We wanted someone who hadn’t necessarily come from a theatre background,” he says, “but was very true to that club vibe.”

The design follows through, with the Studio reconfigured as a bar, The Green Light, with tables and chairs, at which many audience members are served Gatsby-themed food and drink. The bar takes its name from the light on the end of Daisy’s jetty in the novel, at which Gatsby longingly gazed across the water.

“The beauty of any good cocktail rap bar from around the world is they blur the edges of time,” says Couzens. “You could be sitting in this bar in the 1920s or the 2020s, and you could be looking at the same things, hearing the same things, seeing the same characters, drinking the same cocktails and having the same canapes.

“We want it to be quite transportative when you get in there, and rather than people waiting for the show to start, the service for those people [at the tables] begins right away… They’ve bought an experience that includes food and drink, and they can continue to buy at their tables throughout the night, as can other guests who are in more traditional seating.”

Ilott and Couzens are also hoping to evoke the era’s decadence and hedonism. “We’re trying to take our club from 9pm to 3am, and we’re concertinaing it into the 75 minutes of the show,” explains Ilott. “We want to feel like we’re increasingly getting into the deeper, darker, wilder parts of the night as we continue.”

‘We want to feel like we’re increasingly getting into the deeper, darker, wilder parts of the night.’

The pair has worked together for 11 years, initially with Couzens playing producer and production manager, and Ilott creative director. As the friendship has developed, the creative partnership has deepened, to the point where this show was built collaboratively from scratch, with Couzens having more focus on design (including catering), and Ilott on performance, with the music a shared passion.

They’ve seen many productions around the world that promote themselves as “immersive” theatre, but feel that few truly are in the way they’re trying to do it. “I think of the word immersive as meaning that we are immersed in the activity, and the performers are around us,” Ilott says.

“People are after heightened experiences,” adds Couzens, “and they’re prepared not just to pay more, but they want a little bit more. And I think that lends itself well to this particular project.”

Gatsby At The Green Light, Studio, Sydney Opera House, until February 25

Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.

Most Viewed in Culture

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article