Posts Tagged ‘F Scott Fitzgerald’

Sometimes I walk into a theatre with no idea what to expect and I get swept away by the creativity and talent on show, and so it was at Southwark Playhouse on Friday. This musical adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, by Jethro Compton & Darren Clark, is a million miles from the overblown 2008 film, and way better storytelling. Somehow the implausibility of the story of a man who lives his life backwards doesn’t matter as you become captivated by what is now a folk tale set in Cornwall.

From his birth as a 70-year-old, unsurprisingly rejected by his parents, Benjamin tries to find his way in the world. His early life is marred by being too old for anything. As he gets younger, he falls in love with a barmaid, but when he tells her of his plight they part and he goes to war. After the war, he travels the world to understand and resolve his reverse ageing, but fails. When he finds Avoryow again years later, he discovers she’s not the only one he left behind, and they reunite for some happy years and a second child, but tragedy strikes twice, the second time as his wife overtakes him in years and dies, leaving his son to care for him as he continues the inevitable journey backwards.

It’s sub-titled ‘A Celtic Musical’ and the score is a beautifully melodic collection of folk influenced songs that tell much of the story. A highlight for me was the song A Matter of Time, which appeared in both acts telling a different part of the story brilliantly. The five hugely talented performers – Matthew Burns, Rosalind Ford, Joey Hickman, Philippa Hogg & James Marlow – sing beautifully, with soaring harmonies, whilst between them playing keyboards, cello, violin, guitar, drums, trombone and recorder and taking between three and twelve roles each! The staging and design totally suit the material, with a handful of crates, netting and a three highly imaginative puppets for the very old and very young. Writer Compton also directs.

In a welcome first, the programme included a breakdown of costs and funding, which proved what a tight ship they ran putting on this glorious show. A delightful evening which richly deserved the standing ovation in got from a full house. Stop reading and start booking – you’ve only got three weeks.

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This musical adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel was first produced at The Kings Head Theatre four years ago. This revised version is by the same team of Linnie Reegan (book & direction) and Joe Evans (music & lyrics). Though I’m not that familiar with the novel, it seemed faithful, though ‘narrated’ by Gatsby’s business partner Wolfsheim rather than told from the perspective of Gatsby’s neighbour and fellow war veteran Nick Carraway as (I think) it usually is.

Jay Gatsby is a 1st world war veteran who spent, and capitalises on, a brief post-war period in Oxford. Daisy, the love of his life, marries for money. He makes his fortune in somewhat dodgy deals with partner Wolfshiem and five years on he’s determined to wrench Daisy from her husband Tom Buchanan, who himself is having an affair with garage owner George Wilson’s wife Myrtle. The backdrop, of course, is decadence, jazz and booze in Long Island and New York City 20’s society.

Though it seemed faithful to the book, it somehow lacked interest as a story. The mediocre score doesn’t really add much and I thought an opportunity was missed to make it more contemporary with the action and setting. The traverse staging (though most of the audience is on one side) was OK from where I was sitting, but there seemed to be lots of poorer spots at the extremes on the same, long side. Having the clubbers enter through, and linger in, the foyer and bar fell flat, as did the attempts at direct contact with the audience.

I felt some of the singing was a bit ropey, and some of the acting too – it all seemed a bit forced. Having actors play instruments, as they do here, facilitates a much broader instrumentation, but I’m afraid its at the expense of the quality of musicianship. It seemed under-rehearsed to me, though it was the 6th or 7th performance. The show itself, despite being a revised version, still seemed like work-in-progress. The whole thing lacked energy and pace.

There’s apparently someone from TOWIE and I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here called Ferne McCann in the cast (actually, she’s not bad), so that might sell it, but for a Union regular like me, I’m afraid it’s a bit of a dud. 

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