Sunday, 23rd July.
12:01pm: “I’m still in bed lol”
3:00pm: “So I did a thing and entered the TodayTix lottery for the Great Gatsby immersive show, and won??? Do u wanna come?”
3:07pm: “I’m literally still in my pyjamas I’m actually disgusting”
The above messages were sent to my friend and frequent theatre plus one, Joseph. If you can’t already tell, the theatre – let alone an immersive show – weren’t at the top of my list for that day. I flapped for two hours finding something to wear, sending texts to my mum and various friends. The ticket said “dress to impress” but what does that actually mean? I didn’t own anything remotely 1920s, so squeezed myself into a black dress I hadn’t worn for over a year and thought “fuck it, that’ll do”.
And do it did. I was pretty nervous walking to the secret location, a disused warehouse done up as Gatsby’s drugstore. We got lost, rang the bell to a house, panicked a bit, then realised the show was using the entrance around the corner. Oops. We were greeted at the door by 1920s socialities and referred to as a “lovely couple”. Joseph vehemently (and truthfully!) denied this. I rolled my eyes.
Inside, the drugstore had a bar, piano, and sheet music strung up like baby mobiles. There are a couple of sofas, and chairs, and it’s not decadent, but dark, secretive, ready to be moved out at a moment’s notice. The room fills quickly as we inch toward the starting time, and audience members’ attire range from full out 20s clobber to 21st century garms.
The performance begins, and we are treated to some lovely exposition dialogue from Nick Carraway (Daniel Dingsdale) as he leads us into the primary performance space: Gatsby’s party. The theme-ing is excellent, all black and gold, complete with a bar (though no getting squiffy for me, I’m a poor student), band area, and balcony which acts as a rooftop garden to overlook the dance floor. Immediately, we are pulled into a Charleston lesson by Jordan Baker (Holly Beasley-Garrigan), and though it’s cramped, it’s exhilarating and great fun. I think I said “I need Jordan’s jumpsuit in my life” three times, plus another two in my head.
The majority of the performance is us watching the characters before us: Jordan and Nick’s budding romance, Tom’s disgusting treatment of Daisy, and Gatsby attempting to win her back. There are moments where some characters take groups of people into smaller rooms, but this only happens to us once. Unlike Alice’s Adventures Underground at the Vaults, where audience members get an almost-equal experience, here it really depends on if you’re standing in the right place at the right time. We largely get left alone by the actors – maybe we have grumpy faces?
There’s a section of audience participation where the audience are instructed to help set up the tea party for Daisy: tea trollies are wheeled in, a table is turned on its side, and a tableau is created. “What is this?” Gatsby exclaims, and the set-up is changed to a much simpler one. The participation kind of felt like it was shoe-horned in.
Interval time (which wasn’t needed), and my feet are aching. Mostly because I’m wearing heels – ‘never again’ I whisper to myself. Drinks flow, and I lose Joseph as he pops to la toilette. After the interval, I find him in the crowd of Charleston dancers (yet another group number). But the second half is cool because there’s a bit more action. They all go to town, Tom gets angry, Daisy hits Myrtle and there’s a nice bit with the doors opening and what looks like a car’s headlights beam in. The funeral for Myrtle is also conducted really well, with George’s (Phil Grainger) number on the piano very fitting – Grainger has a lovely voice.
Nick tells us we are “borne back ceaselessly into the past”, there’s a mournful company song, and just like that it finishes. The exposed light bulbs flick to black.
I enjoyed the performance. It was fun, despite it dragging a little, and it was nice to get dressed up and go into the unknown. However, because of how cramped the room was, there wasn’t as much immersion or personal attention given (for my experience, anyway). What watching/being part of the production did make me realise was that I actually dislike The Great Gatsby as a whole. Wow, what a great take away. It’s actually quite boring isn’t it? Just despicable people talking and fighting over ridiculous things whilst drowning in money. I understand it’s about themes more than emotions, but as emotions are such a fundamental part of the theatrical experience, it’s a difficult text to translate. In this respect, an immersive production was definitely the right way to go to tackle this Fitzgerald classic.
Go see it, though. I’m a little bit grumble-y right now, but it is a fun night and something different on the scene right now.