Theatre company, Ruby In The Dust’s adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic Jazz Age novel is playing at the Arts Theatre for the next few weeks, featuring the Benoit Veillefon Orchestra. And it’s a little rough around the edges.The cast is comprised of unbalanced talent, only highlighted by the classy performances from Kim Medcalf (of Eastenders fame), as Myrtle, and Maria Coyne, who plays her sister, Catherine. Their characters were well developed and interesting to watch – Catherine perfectly evoking an obnoxious gossip, and Myrtle a party girl with bigger dreams. Simon Bailey who plays Tom also put on a strong, moody performance, creating an arrogant character whose anger was always just visible – bubbling below the surface.
The score by Joe Evans was hugely forgettable and I couldn’t recall a single lyric now. The accompanying orchestra boldly sat on the stage throughout the performance, but while their musical talent was undeniable, their stage presence – or fiddling around with their instruments and making remarks to each other – served as more of a distraction from the rest of the performance.
The costumes by Patricia Gomez were suitably imbued with 1920s glamour; sparkly dropped waist dresses, lashings of sultry eye make-up, and short hair giving the girls an unmistakably glamorous 20s look, while the men were smart in their standard 1920s suits – although the style is more Candlelight Club on a Friday night than a slick production at The Savoy Theatre.
It’s difficult to discuss the set design (Christopher Hone), knowing that it’s still a ‘work in progress’ as The Arts Theatre keeps the set for American Idiot The Musical, but the transitions between scenes were awkward and didn’t always signify specific locations. In general the whole set was a bit of a mess, barely giving the actors room to breathe, let alone act and the choreography (Chris Whittaker) therefore made good use of the constricted space, even if the actors’ moves did sometimes look of their own devising.
Unsurprisingly, the play’s saving grace was its storyline. Adapted by Linnie Reedman, the script takes us straight into the sizzling heat of summer in 1920s New York. Written to amplify the terrible despair and divide of class and money and those who ‘didn’t make it’, Reedman injects little humour and the callous remarks and gossip are more sad than hilarious. We see a relentless yearning for an idealism of how life should be lived, with many of the events in Fitzgerald’s early life said to have inspired this work; falling in love while he was stationed in the military and falling into a glamourous life in order to prove himself to the girl he loved, Zelda Sayre, who is reflected in Daisy’s character, a ‘beautiful little fool’ unable to cope on her own in the society around her.
This is a play which has suffered from being in too much of a hurry and the producers are all too aware of the ‘unfinished’ aspects of it. This is a portrait of the 20s, which isn’t fully painted, a strong script with a poor production. It needs more love, more thought and more attention to detail. I’d hold off until they give it the attention it deserves.
Gatsby at the Arts Theatre, 6-7 Great Newport St, London WC2H 7JB, until 16th November 2015. For more information and tickets visit the website.