By Liam Gill
Put quite frankly, Castle Theatre Company’s production of The Great Gatsby was dreadful. The play took an internationally respected and beloved piece of American literature and systematically destroyed its defining features.
Prior to the play, writer Nick Chapman claimed that, ‘the structure of this book is terrible, dramatically speaking,’ so I had to admire the irony as I watched a play with no natural story arc or dramatic substance whatsoever. The problems with this script were clearly evident; even the intermission of the play was wildly mistimed, occurring just as the love between Daisy Buchanan (Oliva Ballantine-Smith) and Jay Gatsby (Theo Holt-Bailey) was beginning to prosper, completely killing what should have been the most emotional relationship of the production.
The failure to include any narration by Nick Carraway (Owen Sparkes), often recognized as one of the greatest narrators in American literature, was another blatant mistake by Chapman, meaning he was incapable of capturing the magic of the novel. Additionally, the lack of a narrator caused the play to last nearly three hours, far too long for a production that lacked the requisite emotions or humor to succeed.
In the preview to the show, Chapman also claimed that ‘the script really brings out parts of the book that are maybe a little bit too subtle for an audience to read.’ If this quotation refers to the consistent references to the flashing green light in the distance, or mentions of Tom’s numerous infidelities, then I believe the original approach of subtlety is much preferred to the annoying repetition of minor details. Upon reflection, I would question whether Chapman’s play was truly based upon the novel? It appeared to me that his script was simply a cheap imitation of the 2013 film.
Despite the colossal handicap caused by the script, many individuals shone under the bright lights of Castle’s Great Hall. During the drink’s reception prior to the play Catherine (Meg Osborne) was particularly entertaining as she approached the guests in character to speculate about the past of the mysterious Gatsby. Holt-Bailey was magnificent throughout and deserves comparison to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby. He was dazzling, providing consistent entertainment as he perfectly delivered his lines with emotion and passion.
Myrtle Wilson (Carrie Gaunt) also turned in a tremendous performance; despite being hampered by a lack of continuity in her character’s development, she was still able to maximize the emotional impact of her scenes. Unfortunately, George Wilson (Wesley Milligan) was burdened with the duty of playing Myrtle’s foil. In this role he was unable to match the high-octane performance of Gaunt, and he was unconvincing throughout the play, failing to show the audience the slow burning emotions that would transform him from a happy mechanic to a cold blooded murderer.
Finally, the decision to produce the play in the Castle Great Hall was extremely short sighted. While it provided for a unique atmosphere as the event was black tie, it was clear that the producers and director were heavily restricted in their creative options, causing the audience to awkwardly wait numerous times throughout the performance as set changes lasted over a minute.
Overall, it would be unfair to analyze too critically the producers, director or actors. While some may have outperformed others, all were heavily hampered by what can only be described as a terrible script. Hopefully with the great dramatic minds associated with the production, something can be salvaged for the remaining sell-out performances.
Photograph: Jessie Layman