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Review: The Great Gatsby (Immersive LDN)

How does the long-running immersive show work in the Covid era?

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The Great Gatsby
© Mark Senior

It's interesting to wonder what The Great Gatsby's F Scott Fitzgerald would have made of the quarantine world. Clearly others have been drawn to the thought too – a fake letter from Fitzgerald went viral early on in lockdown, referencing the writer's time isolating during the Spanish flu.

WhatsOnStage last reviewed the show back when it moved into its new home just off Oxford Street in London, and, with a rather large pandemic having reared its head since then – one major question brings us back – does the immersive piece (which opened earlier this month, abiding by necessary safety regulations) still work despite the ongoing social distancing restrictions?

In many ways yes – the well-drilled cast and management team do a superb job in ushering, guiding and maintaining distances wherever necessary. Bar staff wear masks with drinks available before the show or during the interval (so don't expect a hedonistic cocktail-soaked extravaganza akin to a West Egg bootleg-fuelled mixer).

The cast themselves keep distant which, notably, suits Fitzgerald's text just fine – each character there has their own ambitions, desires, insecurities and motives. Rarely do they actually share – so it feels apt that this is physically replicated on stage.

For audiences not wholly up-to-speed on the plot (or the 2012 Baz Luhrmann lavish electro-swing remake), it may be a bit tricky to follow the fractious love triangle between Daisy Buchanan, her unfaithful husband Tom and the titular enigmatic charmer Gatsby, when you're whisked out of a room to have a quiet 'break-out' scene. You'll spend ten minutes having banter with a couple of cast members, only to return to find some hand gloved audience members being asked to run around and lay a table.

The cast does a fantastic job though – reacting and bouncing off audiences while always maintaining that quintessential '20s charm (and relative distancing). Special kudos must go to Lucas Jones for his sturdy turn as the tragic George Wilson, while choreographer Holly Beasley-Garrigan also bookends moments in the show with all the necessary Charleston-ing.

But Alexander Wright's adaptation veers wildly between neat passages from Fitzgerald's text and other bits of ad hoc dialogue. Granted, as an immersive piece with multiple scenes occurring simultaneously, it makes sense for things to be distilled and stretched, but tonally it never really fits together cohesively. Gatsby and his long-lost love's famous reunion bounces from a tender moment into a cheesy comedy bit – more Gavin and Stacey than Jay and Daisy. It gives the whole experience an uneven texture – fitful then thoughtful then back to fitful again.

One tender moment gives the night its sparkle – four of us (masked) audience members whisked away just after Daisy has committed her terrible crime – to watch her howl and attempt an emotional recovery in a lavishly decorated bedroom. Just the five of us in a small room, hearing a beautiful monologue from actress Lucinda Turner – that no one will ever witness in the same way again.

Ten minutes of fleet tenderness in a (very much safe) two-hour experience that remind you why the magic of live theatre will never be diminished.

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