When Selina Cartmell announced that her opening act for her first season as artistic director of the prestigious Gate Theatre was going to be The Great Gatsby with all the seats taken out, there was as much trepidation as anticipation. How exactly was it going to work?
What has proven a hit with a New York audience in immersive plays like Sleep No More, might not work with a timid, overly-apologetic Irish crowd. Perhaps asking audience members to dress in 1920s attire might help them step out of themselves and their self-consciousness, but really, is that enough?
But as you walk up the steps of the Gate, past Gatsby’s 1920’s era Regent convertible, towards the din of people and hum of jazz, all the ponderings slip away and by the end of the fizzing, dizzying opening number you’ve thrown yourself head first into the opulence and debauchery.
Following ten characters from Scott F Fitzgerald’s genre-defining novel, it’s a breathless narrative woven between the main theatre and bar, and the lavish private rooms for which the Gate offers a near perfect substructure for Gatsby’s out-of-this-world wealth. Charlene McKenna’s Daisy sidles up to ask how you’re enjoying the party as you’re ushered into Gatsby’s study, the jazz den or a private bedroom. As much a part of plot as you are watching it, expect to be asked to help Gatsby chose a suit to or hurried by Daisy to think of an excuse to tell her husband Tom, played by Mark Huberman, as to why we’ve been away from the party for so long.
While it will take four viewings to witness every scene (which goes some way to explaining to two-month run), it’s a beautiful web of a production that is so seamless you know it must have been a complicated creation, building towards the climatic moments of the second half. The manic nerves of Paul Mescal as Gatsby and McKenna’s vapid yet oddly endearing Daisy are buffered by the magnificent Rachel O’Byrne as the disillusioned and ethereal Jordan and the moving nature Huberman gives to the churlish Tom.
It’s a hazy, humming event, expect to be pulled left and right, hurtled down corridors, finding yourself in places you’re not sure you ought to be and left breathless by this all-encompassing spectacle.
The Great Gatsby is a risk that Jay would be proud of, and this production is certainly paying off.