THE GREAT GATSBY

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - THE TAKE - PETER CRAW­LEY

So we beat on, boats against the cur­rent, borne back cease­lessly into the past. Or, to put it an­other way, it’s time to re­turn to the Gatsby Man­sion.

When this dar­ingly im­mer­sive and high-spir­ited adap­ta­tion of The Great Gatsby first pre­miered, in what now feels like the dis­tant past of the sum­mer of 2017, the Gate theatre seemed full of new pos­si­bil­i­ties. A fresh vi­sion had an­nounced it­self for the theatre, the old man­age­ment had gone qui­etly, ap­par­ently, and the venue it­self seemed ready to be seen from new per­spec­tives. And so it was.

The sur­pris­ing thing about this lively show, cho­sen as Selina Cart­mell’s in­au­gu­ral pro­duc­tion, was how ready the au­di­ence was to get in on the act. You could even see them com­ing from far off, strolling up O’Con­nell Street in cock­tail dresses and coat-tails, se­quins and pin­stripes, if rarely in white (it was well after La­bor Day). With that level of play­ful self-aware­ness, any as­sump­tions about the Gate au­di­ence had to be rethought, there to be met at the speakeasy by plea­sure-seek­ers en­tirely new to this theatre. Every­one was ready to party.

Now the hit show re­turns to round out a com­pli­cated year for the Gate, where, just like the char­ac­ters from F Scott Fitzger­ald’s cel­e­brated de­but novel, every­one may feel like the star of the show. It sends them and us skit­ter­ing through­out the rooms of Jay Gatsby’s man­sion, played, in a bold bit of cast­ing, by the full ex­panse of the Gate it­self, mar­vel­lously trans­formed in Ciaran Bag­nall’s fas­tid­i­ous de­sign.

Sheaved into groups be­tween its shim­mer­ing jazz bar and sev­eral lush pri­vate rooms, you might wit­ness the poignant dreams of a tragi-comic Mr McKee, for in­stance (who barely gets to live the span of five pages in Fitzger­ald’s novel) and de­cide that the whole show is ac­tu­ally about him, a chron­i­cally ine­bri­ated pho­tog­ra­pher who will never find fo­cus.

Such are the pos­si­bil­i­ties in di­rec­tor Alexan­der Wright’s free-range adap­ta­tion, which doesn’t worry that we may never get the whole story, be­cause in our new in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic age of splin­ter­ing nar­ra­tives, we rarely do. Here, even Nick Car­raway (Shane O’Reilly), the novel’s dry nar­ra­tor, can never give a clear ac­count of him­self or, per­haps, any­one else. An un­re­li­able spin­ner look­ing for a cen­tre, he’ll need help find­ing one in Gatsby (Barry John Kin­sella), a but­ter­fly of self-in­ven­tion, con­stantly dis­ap­pear­ing into an en­sem­ble of con­stant mo­tion and flut­ter­ing im­pro­vi­sa­tions. It falls to the au­di­ence, then, to do Car­raway’s job and ob­serve.

For that, both the per­for­mances and the spa­ces pro­vide an abun­dance of de­tail. Rachel O’Byrne’s slowly tem­pered “new wo­man” cyn­i­cism as Jor­dan; Peter O’Brien’s smart and sump­tu­ous cos­tumes; some sly self-ref­er­ences to the Gate’s his­tory scat­tered among the props; and, from fugi­tive an­gles, the chance to see in Mark Hu­ber­man’s fluid per­for­mance of the boor­ish Tom Buchanan, some­thing frus­trat­ingly hu­man.

Sure, some­times char­ac­ter-driven margina­lia can be­come over­stretched at close quar­ters, and in the jazz bar the party is never al­lowed to con­vinc­ingly flag, pumped along with cabaret per­for­mances, man­i­cally vig­or­ous Charlestons (chore­ographed by Muirne Bloomer) and knock­about comic di­ver­sions.

It makes for an ex­pe­ri­ence built up in dis­crete mo­ments, rather than a long arc, where you are as much watch­ing as watched. Where else might a once-glit­ter­ing young wo­man con­tem­plat­ing a fu­ture of sad com­pro­mise ask di­rectly for ad­vice: “What would you do?”

The show is a mag­nif­i­cently en­ter­tain­ing, dizzy­ing party, and such dis­trac­tions make their own point. To sud­denly see things from her side, in more som­bre shad­ows, you might find it hard to come up with a good an­swer.

■ The Great Gatsby runs at the Gate Theatre, Dublin from No­vem­ber 21 st to Feb 16th, 7.30pm (Sat mat 2pm) See gateth­e­atre.ie

PHO­TO­GRAPH: AGATA STOINSKA

Roar­ingly good: Keep­ing the en­ergy up in the jazz bar.

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