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Simon Jessop's directorial début

Actor Simon Jessop directs a new stage adaptation of "The Great Gatsby" at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch

Simon Jessop in rehearsal
©Nobby [email protected]

There have been many stage and film adaptations of Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby, including a full-length ballet version. I was intrigued to find out why actor Simon Jessop has selected Peter Joucla's dramatisation for his solo directorial début.

How, as an actor, did you first become involved with the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch?.

I first worked with Bob Carlton in 1993 on the Olivier Award-winning Return to the Forbidden Planet. I toured nationally with this show, went with it to Madrid and then at the Shaftesbury Theatre in the West End.

Many years later Bob became artistic director of the Queen's Theatre and called upon many of the people with whom he had worked previously to recruit a resident company of actor-musicians called cut to the chase ... My first plays here were What the Butler Saw, Keep On Running, Face and It's a Fine Life! .

You have now been a member of the cut to the chase... company for a number of years. How important to you is being a member of such an ensemble? And why?

I have been a member of the company for about 12 years. I have enjoyed the camaraderie that develops within a resident company, you all become one family, sharing a collaborative intuition which helps considerably when facing some more challenging roles or situations.

Actors are more inclined to take risks when they already share a trust with their fellow company members, and this bravery will in my opinion always bring more bite to any piece of theatre. 

What has made you want to direct as well as perform?

I have always felt the importance in the clarity of story-telling in theatre and I enjoy the totally immersive element that directing offers, when you involve yourself in all elements of the production, lighting, sound, set, music and costume and bring them together to make the most of this narrative style that you have adopted.

You've been an assistant director on several productions at the Queen's. What made you choose The Great Gatsby for your solo début?

I was assistant director on A Passionate Woman and on Treasure Island – both with Bob as director – and co-director of Deathtrap with Matt Devitt. The Great Gatsby is my directorial debut. I have worked hard on the clarity of the love story within this piece, as I believe simplicity is the essence of what makes Gatsby great.

Will it be a straightforward version of the novel, or are there some surprises to be revealed?

We have stylised the piece somewhat, initially making the audience totally aware that they are watching a piece of theatre, rather than attempt to convince them that they are immediately to be transported to the world that the characters inhabit. We present the piece as a play, and then melt into the realism that we begin to create.

As this develops we also then introduce film footage that we have shot for this project and the two pieces of mixed media together then share the same bed. It is a brave and visually enticing style, but one that I felt would work well for The Great Gatsby.

There are only eight members of cast, who also play all the instruments as we recreate a soundtrack as a pulse of life in that era. The commitment, trust and bravery of the acting company, together with the energy of every other department in the theatre have all made this production hugely exciting to develop. Without that collaboration, we would have nothing.