The Great Gatsby @ Immersive LDN - Company: Photo: Helen Maybanks
After nearly thirty years, immersive theatre has never been more popular. From the time tableaux of 1995’s H.G. and Dennis Severs’ House to landmark shows like dreamthinkspeak’s Crime and Punishment and the Fox brothers’ utterly terrifying 139 Copeland Road. The biggest names in the genre are of course Punchdrunk, who gave us the unforgettable Masque of the Red Death and will return to London in 2020, and Secret Cinema who have managed to keep true to their mission while “selling out”. To that short list must be added the team behind The Great Gatsby, which in a new West End location has finally realised the tremendous potential that was obvious from the day the London production opened, over a year ago.
An exhilaratingly exciting recreation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel of deceit and decadence among the socialites of New York, this immersive adaptation is by the director Alexander Wright and members of the cast of the original production in York in 2015. Ingeniously structured, this retelling of The Great Gatsby works on so many levels – literally – and, revelling in expansive new Mayfair premises, formerly the headquarters of a military charity, the design team bring the novel stunningly to life. From the elegant entrance the feel is very different to the London Bridge incarnation of the show and, after being greeted as Mr Gatsby’s guests by a doorman, played by Louis Sparks – undoubtedly an actor to watch – you mount the staircase and are immediately transported back if not to 1920s Long Island then to a place not very far away.
A huge central space, once a drill hall, serves initially as a club, throbbing with energy and jazz age music, and later becomes Jay Gatsby’s mansion while also, by happy coincidence, functioning as an interval bar. This then is where the main story plays out but this is an immersive production and though it would be perfectly possible to stay by the bar all evening, there are numerous possible “side missions” for groups and sometimes individual members of the audience, which significantly enhance the experience but are not absolutely essential to understanding of the plot and enjoyment of the evening. While fear of missing out is always a factor in an immersive production the risk is minimised in this cleverly structured show. Likewise, if you dress up in period clothing you will get even more from the experience but this is in no way essential.
The uniformly excellent cast of The Great Gatsby is unchanged from the earlier London run and there are outstanding performances by Oliver Towse as Gatsby, James Lawrence as the author surrogate Nick Carraway, and Prince Plockey as Tom Buchanan. As the stunningly sexy and ruthlessly self-centred Myrtle, a superb Hannah Edwards steals the show whenever she appears while Tendai Humphrey Sitima is compelling as Myrtle’s husband George. Again, as this is immersive theatre there are many moments when members of the cast – and even some members of the audience – are required to improvise but these scenes work brilliantly and were a particular highlight for me. If there is a quibble it is a very minor one – a period song is needed for the show’s breathtakingly beautiful climax.
So, in short, go to The Great Gatsby to enjoy the most entertaining immersive show in London. Go to dance. Go to sing. But above all, just go …
The Great Gatsby - Charlie Cassen - Photo: Sam Taylor