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Gatsby (Union Theatre)

Although pulsing with energy, this adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald's novel lacks real sparkle

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Everything about Gatsby is on a grand scale - his wealth, his house, his parties - and his obsession with Daisy Buchanan. In director Linnie Reedman's musical adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, with songs by Joe Evans, every potential space in the snug Union Theatre is used to create an all-embracing, immersive sense of frantic Jazz-Age excitement.

Much of the action is set in a speakeasy bar, and Reedman's most radical decision has been to make bootlegger Wolfshiem - the founding source of Gatsby's ill-gotten riches - the narrator of the story, rather than unassuming neighbour Nick Carraway.

Paul DuBois is slick and slippery as Wolfshiem, and his narration serves as an effective frame for the narrative.

But the downside is that Nick's character, though played with an open frankness by Blair Robertson, becomes rather woolly when he's not able to explain clearly, in F Scott Fitzgerald's exquisite prose, how he came to be involved with this larger-than-life set.

Some of the best performances come from the Wilson family. James Rallison is tightly constrained but explosive as George Wilson, the garage owner and wronged husband. And Ferne McCann makes an impressive stage debut as sensuous Myrtle Wilson, who longs to replace her own dull husband with secret lover Tom Buchanan. McCann also reveals a deliciously husky voice in "Seize the Day", and "You Can't Live Forever", one of the best songs in the show. Katie Beudert brings a welcome subtlety to Myrtle's sister Catherine, and also stuns with a tabletop trumpet solo.

Nicolas Fagerberg is reserved and enigmatic as Gatsby, with a cool air of detachment that serves to make his reckless obsession with Daisy all the more surprising. Arrogant and assured, Zed Josef makes a swaggering Tom.

Director Reedman has Daisy (Joanna Brown) on full wattage right from the start, yet she has her strongest moments as a broken, bewildered wife during the showdown between her men.

The super-cool Jordan Baker is played by Kate Marlais, but it's difficult to picture this bright and breezy Jordan being sly and determined enough to cheat successfully on the golf course.

Visually, the show is very successful, with exceptional work from lighting designer Jack Weir (particularly considering he only graduated last year) who illuminates this difficult space and large cast with great skill. Kelli White's design, and Natasha Kanolik's costume supervision all add to the glitzy sense of excess, especially when choreographer Nick Pack has the ensemble dancing with frantic zest.

Musical director Barnaby Southgate leads a fine band, with composer Joe Evans on piano, and all the musicians are cast members too.

This is a bold and ambitious show, but while it brims with energy, the subtleties of the key relationships created by F Scott Fitzgerald are not delivered entirely successfully.

Gatsby runs at the Union Theatre until 30 April.

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