GATZ: The Great Gatsby Uncut
Noël Coward Theatre
30th June 2012
Although six hours of theatre that is spread over an eight-hour afternoon – when it’s sunny for once – seems like madness, the Elevator Repair Service production of “Gatz” was never anything less than joy and a wonder to watch. Focused around reading aloud F. Scott Fitzgerald’s widely agreed masterpiece “The Great Gatsby”, you’d think that by the third interval the theatre would be empty. But the audience stay, entranced by the rhythmic speech and the wonderfully subtle direction until the very end, when they stand and applaud for eons.
The applause is well-given, for a number of reasons. The majority of the applause seems to be directed at the actors, at their stamina and their consistent ability in communicating what can be a mammoth text, crammed full of potent symbols and signifiers, to the audience. They don’t take themselves too seriously: there is more than one occasion when a wry smile is shot out to the stalls, occasionally even generating a round of applause. Comic timing and discipline are rife amongst the cast, particularly in Scott Shepherd’s Nick and Jim Fletcher’s Gatsby, who elegantly and calmly navigate the lofty prose with restraint and class.
The direction, however, is the secret winner. Endlessly the tiniest background movement in the office where Nick and his colleagues “work” appears insignificant until a few lines later, when you realise that, for example, the handyman fixing the Dell computer is actually Wilson the garage owner, or that the sound technician at the side of the stage is a butler. Occasionally a movement is isolated from text, and in the split second afterwards, the thought goes through your head that perhaps this time the movement was a fumble, or an accident, or in any other way extraneous. And then Shepherd will find his place in the text and immediately pooh-pooh any doubts you may have had.
It is the economy and the precision of the direction that makes the six hour piece so completely watchable. There is never any danger that too much is being done, you feel safe in the hands of the actors and the director, and you can just let it all wash over you. It’s like a wonderful combination – of those (forgotten) days when, during the summer holidays, you took an executive decision to read an entire book in a day – and the theatre. Two of the best things together: a creation of a form with the potential to change the face of the West End forever.