The Great Gatsby Immersive: up close theatre with a drink in your hand ****
- Credit: Mark Senior
For those who missed the thrill of live performance during lockdowns - or hate being silently seatbound before a proscenium arch - they offer the chance to dress up, bust the fourth wall, enter a fantastical world, and interact with characters - hopefully with a drink in your hand.
Critics might say they are for gamers with poor attention spans who don't mind the FOMO of missing the third of the show which happens elsewhere. Ushering in a new cast, The Great Gatsby - based in a large house off Bond Street - has been among the most enduring. Producers Hartshorn Hook, who are also behind the Peaky Blinders show, are experienced in immersive staging, and Alexander Wright's script is sharp, and leans cleverly on the brilliant source material of F Scott Fitzgerald's novel.
The book's interlocking love affairs also lend themselves to getting up close to some intimate two way brawls and rows. I was party to a humdinger 'I'm leaving you' between Aimee Barrett's ambitious, frustrated Myrtle and Steve McCourt's hangdog cuckold George. While Safeena Ladha's vulnerable Daisy confessed sadly that she knew wealthy, mean husband Tom was cheating on her.
The trick is to bring everyone together for plot advancements, while hiving off smaller groups for enjoyable digressions - we were ushered into Gatsby's library to be offered gin and a business deal.
Hugh Stubbins' earnest Nick Carraway is a handy narrator to set the scene and fill in backstories. He even gets a smooch with Jessica Hern's vivacious Jordan Baker. Several talented cast members including Barrett and McCourt also sing and play during musical interludes, and each half of the show starts with a dance which immerses you in the glitter of jazz age New York.
Perhaps inevitably the subtleties - Jay Gatsby's famous self-invention and poignant downfall - get lost in the melee, but there are some thrilling moments of close up theatre which whet the appetite for exploring the seedy underbelly of the roaring twenties with the Peakys.