‘The Gatsby Experience’ was glamorous.
Scott Fitzgerald’s grim and glitzy expose on the American dream ‘The Great Gatsby’ sparkles to life in a unique staging by Footlights Theatrical Inc. ‘The Gatsby Experience’ combines classic 1920s music, toe-tapping choreography and lively performances in an immersive cabaret with modern twists. Set against the intricately grand foyer area of the GabbaXchange Apartments in Woolloongabba, this adaptation places audiences in the centre of the action and within close proximity to actors.
The show follows the classic story of starry-eyed Jay Gatsby (played by William Boyd) and his relationships with other stupidly rich people in the era. A heavily thematic tale of materialism and achieving the American dream, audiences are able to witness the glamorous era of the roaring 20s and the desires of those who thrive in it. Other characters include the hopeful Nick Carraway (played by Dominic Bradley), the manipulative Daisy Buchanan (played by Katya Bryant), the firm Tom Buchanan (played by Liam McDonell), and the alluring Jordan Baker (played by Aimee Monement). All personalities are connected by a desire for something greater and an urge to climb the social ladder, tied together by narrator Carraway, who offers a detached perspective of the events.
This production by Footlight Theatrical Inc. was created in 2018 and has since grown into a multi-layered show, incorporating scenes from the stage adaptation by Stephen Sharkey and melding tunes with Charleston-style dancing. ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a popularly produced work of stage and screen, most commonly from Baz Luhrmann’s film starring Leonardo Di Caprio and recently an Off-Broadway staging by ‘Elevator Repair Service’.
The technical design by Ian Johnson matched the ‘authentic 20s’ that the show aimed to deliver, with basic lighting and vintage ‘flapper’ jazz music. However modern-day elements were added, with techno remixes and pop songs sung in 20s style. This allowed the audience to relate to the events on stage through recognisable sounds, while also reinvigorating what can be a tired, overdone story.
The art deco fittings of the GabbaXchange was the perfect setting for a Gatsby telling, with its elaborate staircase design and polished wood balcony. The impression of wealth and pretentiousness complemented the characters own greed and sins. Other set-pieces, such as a gold, glass drinks table and striped settee further achieved this atmosphere. The costumes, designed by Roslyn Johnson and Aimee Monement, were gorgeous and captured the time period, especially the dresses and headpieces. Each character’s look held an air of authenticity that was impressive and fascinating to see.
While the venue certainly immersed the audience in the Gatsby world, the ‘experience’ component had the potential for expansion. Audiences couldn’t enter the space, but rather observed from the outside, and interaction with performers was minimal. Even the mingling area between acts was bare and not transformed to match the period. The promise of entering Gatsby’s mansion and an ‘authentic 20s experience’ felt unfulfilled.
Roslyn Johnson’s direction was effective and kept actors on their toes with interesting blocking and compelling use of the space. Scenes were well-paced and moved naturalistically, particularly during the first party at the Gatsby mansion in Act 1. Dialogue flowed into dance and song, then smoothly back into dialogue. Additionally, the argument between Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby in Act 2, saw the conversation rocket along with thrilling speed.
The set of stairs became a unique entry point for performers and added diversity to the audience’s viewpoint. However, the pre-show performance (where some performers entered the stage and talked to each other with a drink in hand) often faltered, with performers standing awkwardly as if waiting for the cue to begin, this detracted from the realism of attending Gatsby’s mansion. Jaide Camilleri’s choreography incorporated the old and new, including flouncy Charleston styles, snappy modern jazz and sharp, fosse like combinations. Watching it was overly joyful and entertaining.
William Boyd as Jay Gatsby brought a dreamy determination to the famous character and was a great casting decision. His ability to clearly express Gatsby’s thought processes demonstrated his commitment to the role. Dominic Bradley as Nick Carraway was energetic and engaging, delivering dialogue with his captivating ‘storyteller’ voice. Liam McDonell made the audience sit up straighter with his commanding, aggressive take on Tom Buchanan, encouraging the silent boos for Buchanan’s behaviour from those watching.
Katya Bryant played Daisy Buchanan with subtle maliciousness and a carefree flirtatiousness that was both sickening and glorious to witness. Aimee Monement was charming as golfer Jordan Baker, bringing honesty and cynicism to the character. Scott Fulton played several characters, most importantly George Wilson, and acted with fierce intensity and emotional connection to his performance.
As Wilson’s wife in their rocky relationship, Ashleigh Cates was a dynamite of passion and grit, constantly animated as Myrtle Wilson and when she joined the chorus. Bringing in the strong vocals was the hypnotising Sophia Dimopoulos and powerful Adam Bartlett, who sung with hardly a flaw, notably in renditions of ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears and ‘Cry Me a River’ by Arthur Hamilton. Featured dancers included Zoe Mildwaters, Kai Taberner and Jaide Camilleri.
A stellar cast and brilliant direction against a stunning backdrop and exquisite 1920s embellishments – what’s not to love? True to Fitzgerald’s original story, even heightening the themes and tones, ‘The Gatsby Experience’ at the GabbaXchange is a unique staging and a delightful evening of sparkle and pizzazz, drama and romance.
‘The Gatsby Experience’ performed two shows only until Sunday, 8 March 2020. For more information about upcoming events, visit Footlights Theatrical Inc. Website.