Here is a show that blends the carefree spirit of the 1920s with the contemporary demand for constant action. Faithfully based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of the same name, The Great Gatsby is a tale of a golden age long gone; its complex characters, however, grim forbearers of dark times to come.
The audience is involved in the moment every step of the way as the sweeping grounds of Spier Wine Farm become Gatsby’s decadent playground of style and scandal. The production makes ingenious use of the space available, with every aspect of the estate – whether it be the pool or the bar – involved in the story. Every audience member becomes a guest at Gatsby’s swanky soirees and the actors even mingle amongst the crowd before the show starts, jigging and singing wherever they find themselves.
The mood is set from the moment of arrival. The dress code is, of course, your 20s best, but feather boas, white gloves and the like are on sale in case you miss a vital period accessory. Chattering crowds gossip over oysters and cupcakes as the sun sets on this open air production, and an endless flow of quality Spier wine marks the beginning of an unforgettable night. Attention to detail, in tribute to the period, is evident in every aspect from the food and the furniture to the music and the gramophones; but it is predominantly prevalent in its mood, gearing up the audience in anticipation of the show.
The show itself loyally plucks lines straight from the book and is sincere both in its spirit and its delivery. In addition to the intelligent manner in which it utilises the surroundings, the simple yet clever use of décor constructs several locales on stage while the costumes create a variety of characters out of a cast of ten. All the actors sing and dance but, as director Peter Joucla pointed out , The Great Gatsby is not a musical. The excellent musical numbers are there rather to emphasise the period and the mood of the times as the cast effortlessly changes scenes.
There are moments of sheer delight, highlights of which are certainly Lucille McKee stumbling about in a drunken stupor and Nick Carraway contemplating a round of golf. The cast even takes the time during the interval to teach willing audience members the Charleston. At times the show becomes a bit caught up in its own sense of wit and frivolity, which detracts from the heavier moments and key themes, but the actors’ commitment to their roles pulls it back to where it needs to be; while technically they battle bravely with gusts of wind and squirting sprinklers.
This production could not have been better timed. With Baz Luhrmann’s eagerly anticipated film version due for release next year, this show adds to the excited buzz. Every moment of the Great Gatsby evening oozes with a merry persuasion to escape the dreariness that modern life can invoke. The 1920s may have been a precursor to dark times, but today it helps instil a ray of light in a world too caught up in its own problems.
The Great Gatsby runs from 20 November – 31 December at Spier Wine Farm in Stellenbosch.