‘The Great Gatsby: An Immersive Theatrical Production’ was golden.
Nestled in the unexpected depths of Newstead, an innovative immersive experience will transport audiences to the roaring 1920s for an unforgettable party. Presented by Viral Ventures, the makers of the infamous ‘Karen’s Diner’, this new production titled ‘The Great Gatsby: An Immersive Theatrical Production’ explores interactive theatre in a walk-through narrative, adventure-filled cabaret experience.
Inspired by the classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this adaptation by Producer and Writer, Aaron Robuck, blurs the lines between conventional theatre and offers audiences a thrilling and intimate journey into the world of ‘The Great Gatsby’. Set in the Jazz Age of New York, the story is told through the eyes and experiences of Nick Carroway, as he encounters Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire. The plotline also explores Gatsby’s pursuit of Daisy Buchanan, a wealthy young woman whom he loved in his youth and is now determined to reunite with.
In this production, audiences are invited to explore a maze of rooms where various scenes are played out in the centre of the space. Audience members line the walls of the world, however, they very much play a key part in the narrative. Robuck’s text positions every audience member as the central character Nick Carroway, despite actor Michael Cameron assuming most of the character’s identity throughout the scenes. It’s a clever choice that seamlessly blends rehearsed dialogue with moments of improvisation. This means that not only is the audience immersed in each room or scene, but they have the agency to interact with the actors during the experience, and their position in the storyline is clear and concise. Audience members are also singled out to play other various characters, and this adds to the fun and frivolity of the experience.
Production design by Brendan de la Hay is cleverly curated, as the spaces are extremely varied in aesthetics. In one room, audiences walk through a hallway lined with vintage birdcages, ladders and various fairy lights; a playing area that often coops the majority ensemble together at the same time. In another room, cloud-like curtains drape to bring a blue-sky feeling into the space, especially as actors discuss the mundaneness of their lives during the daytime. And in other spaces, audiences encounter a mechanic’s room surrounded with newspaper-lined walls and tyres haphazardly laid around the space; a neon-inspired, bright-coloured, flappers boudoir; and even an enchanted garden complete with antique clocks and guitars hanging from the trees. While not every space has been mentioned, the point is there’s so much to explore in this colourful world and much to look at while venturing through.
Direction by Beth Daly carefully moves audiences around the space, revealing just enough in each scene. What is beautiful about the blocking is the way that the use of each space is thoroughly considered and evidently planned. It compliments de la Hay’s design, as more and more is revealed throughout the experience, keeping audiences engaged. Daly’s use of props in each scene was a marvel. A particular highlight was the use of the music box during the Gatsby and Daisy garden love scene. The way the music naturally slowed down and in time with the pace of the scene amplified the intensity of the moment.
It’s worth noting, however, that an element that did affect the wholeness of the production was the role of the ‘Usher’ played by Robuck. At the start of the experience, Robuck introduced the audience to the nature of immersive theatre and gave instructions on what to expect – like, as audience members you will be involved in scenes so spread out in the room for the best viewing experience. One particular instruction was that audiences should refrain from talking among themselves, in an effort not to detract from the scenes playing out. Unfortunately, this can’t be said for the role of Usher, as this character pulled focus from scenes, especially when Robuck appeared in doorways or jumped in to tell audience members what to do rather than letting them determine the experience for themselves. A particularly disappointing moment was during the high-stakes dispute that occurs towards the end of the show between characters Jay Gatsby, Tom Buchanan and Daisy Buchanan. You could hear a pin drop in the room because the acting and scene work was so connected, and fuelled with tension. It was disappointing to then be distracted by Robuck from these crucial moments, as he paced the corridor outside the room and on occasion, looked in. An improvement for the overall experience would be to cut the role of Usher, as the actors as their character guide the audience through the storyline and into the next space. Leaving this responsibility to them ensures the immersion of the experience is maintained. It also increases opportunities for audiences to interact with the characters.
‘The Great Gatsby: An Immersive Theatrical Production’ also combined cabaret elements, like burlesque performance, tap-dancing, singing and live entertainment. Choreography by Penny Martin infused these moments with 1920s-inspired dance styles; with the Charleston very much at the forefront of the movements. The combination of flappers dancing to serenades within the party scenes, which acted as intervals for audience members, ensured the entertainment was continuous.
Costuming also added to the razzle and dazzle of the event, and it was interesting to see the distinct characterisations of each role come through in their outfits. Cultural norms clearly changed between the aristocrats and the flapper classes.
In terms of the acting, the whole cast worked in complete unison and kept to task in maintaining audience engagement. Michael Cameron as Nick Calloway was a perfect choice, as Cameron had a wonderful and natural skill for storytelling, which was crucial to his role as narrator.
As Jay Gatsby, Rijen Laine was, for lack of a better word, great, and was fatally idealistic as the fabulously wealthy host with the most. Hannah Raven rounded the trio’s dynamic as the beautiful and cynical Jordan Baker. Raven played an important role in the plotline, setting the wheels in motion for the affair between Gatsby and Daisy.
Aleisha Rose humanised the lovely and charming, yet superficial character of Daisy Buchanan. As the epitome of perfection, Rose delivered the character with much sophistication.
James Lee took centre stage with the tongue-in-cheek musings of Meyer Wolfsheim. Lee was fundamental in keeping the audience active in the storyline and worked hard to mingle with everyone.
A standout was Joshua Ralph McElroy as the crummy and controlling Tom Buchanan. McElroy filled his role with detailed mannerisms and desperation. The way McElroy’s expressions morphed in scenes, showed the thought progression of his character and allowed him to deliver compelling and authentic interactions.
Another born natural performer was Lou P Scarlett as the sassy and full-of-life Myrtle Wilson. Scarlett was strong in the character’s convictions and gave a performance that symbolised the rise of female sexuality and independence in the era. This makes the characters’ fate even more tragic at the end of the story.
Rounding out the cast, Cody Ross was a weakened working-class George Wilson, and depicted the sadness of Wilson’s wife’s discretions well; Sebastian Nelson as Little Jimmy was soulful and captivating, especially throughout Nelson’s cabaret solos; and Kristina McNamara shimmied with a clever, cutesy flapper tap routine, but also provided a materialistic class to the Gatsby parties.
‘The Great Gatsby: An Immersive Theatrical Production’ offers a night to remember, and one heck of a theatrical party that is well worth the three-hour experience. For something completely different to conventional performances, and for those new to the world of immersive theatre, this is the perfect show for you, old sport.
‘The Great Gatsby: An Immersive Theatrical Production’ performs until Sunday, 18 December 2022. For more information visit their website: https://explorehidden.com/event/details/the-great-gatsby-an-immersive-theatrical-production-brisbane-1547387