Monday, 26 October 2020

REVIEW: The Great Gatsby at Immersive LDN

There are a few names in the world of immersive theatre that should get you excited and Immersive Everywhere is definitely one for that exclusive list. Tucked away just off of Oxford Street awaits the world of love, well-pressed suits, and bootleg liqueur; it’s the Roaring Twenties and we are invited to a party.
Jay Gatsby’s mansion is the venue for our evening of entertainment. The central space lies in anticipation with a piano dimly lit pulling focus. Around this the audience are seated at a safe distance from each other with Mr Gatsby’s bar dominating one wall. After some welcome rule setting the party springs into life with a snappy Charleston dance number and we are introduced to Nick Carraway (James Lawrence); the man who will guide us through the evening. Lawrence handles his lengthy monologues with ease, setting the scene, giving exposition and being on hand to steady the ship. He holds our attention expertly and has a welcome air of empathy and honesty in this world full of fake niceties and bolshy pomposity. Whilst Jay Gatsby may be the name on the wall, it feels as though Craig Hamilton’s character is written as more of a facilitator and catalyst for Nick Carraway to flourish. Whilst Carraway flourishes through prose and Lawrence’s embodiment, some of the other characters and moments seem under-developed as if they haven’t had the airtime to rise to their full potential.

Some of the audience are broken off and whisked away into secluded rooms to learn more about the guests and Mr Gatsby himself. These moments are when we as an audience really get involved in the action; intimate moments between a few of us and the characters. The story unfolds at a different pace and in a unique way for each audience member which is something familiar with any immersive show. However, as we sit in the main space and watch a tea party or listen to the band, the action is constantly distracted by sound bleeding from the various off-stage rooms. This could easily be a conscious effort on the part of director Alexander Wright, but it somewhat detracts and distracts from the action in front of you. It can be tricky enough to be heard and comprehended in a large room with an audience on all four sides, without the distraction reminiscent of ancient Greek performances.

The show, like any good party, has live music expertly executed by the cast. Lucas Jones gives a noteworthy performance of a ballad in the second act; his unique voice resonating beautifully in the space. There were a few other solemn moments that the cast harnessed beautifully and contrasted well against the bombast of twenties music remixes.

The show’s designer, Casey Jay Andrews (and associate designer Emily Bestow), have created an authentic world populated by both performers and audiences. Everything from the drink’s menu to the giant painting and every single detail in between feels thoroughly considered and purposeful. In the break-out spaces the design really comes to life with intricacies that could be easily missed but go towards creating this world we inhabit for the evening. Contrast this authentic design with Rachel Sampley’s more ‘theatrical’ lighting design, and a sound design (by Phil Grainger and associate designer Lara Gallagher) that mixes theatrics and authenticity as brilliantly as it mixes music across ages, and you get a concoction that feels both honest and performative.

Something that we should expect to see a lot more of in the coming months is a mention of safety measures that are being implemented as theatres and performances begin to finally reopen. Immersive LDN has all the expected measures from face masks and temperature checks to table service and distanced seating. Theatre during a pandemic is no easy feat, so a massive thank you to the production team and front of house team that kept us safe and feeling good for the evening. Also, huge congratulations to the cast, crew and creative team for handling social distancing within the show so effortlessly. 

The recurring issue with all immersive performances is that I leave hungry for more and with questions racing around my mind: what did I miss? Where didn’t I get to go? These questions come with the territory, but The Great Gatsby helped quench my thirst for immersive theatre and still left me hankering for more. With more venues set to open safely in the coming months, it’s looking like those theatre hankerings may, thankfully, be pandered to soon!

Review by Max Topliss

Rating: ★★★★

Price of Ticket: £49.95 (Band A)

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