Review by Yasmin Elahi
‘The Great Gatsby’ is a name that conjures up fantastical images of feather boas, flapper girls, bootleg gin and forbidden romance. It is the embodiment of the roaring 20s itself and known by young and old alike, regardless of whether they have in fact read the work by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Viral Ventures have accepted the challenge to bring this illustrious novel to life in their latest immersive theatre experience. Audiences are invited to step back into the 1920s for a night of revelry, romance and drama, accompanied by the story’s naïve narrator, Nick Carroway.
Upon arriving at the unassuming office block in the trendy Brisbane suburb of Newstead, audiences are ushered into the foyer – decked out with plush velvet, fairy lights and hanging roses. Attention to detail is evident, as even the bathroom is decorated from floor to ceiling, with 1920s photos of the cast. Throughout the experience, the same level of detail continues. As the roller doors shut the audiences into the first room and the record player starts playing, 21st century Brisbane melts away and is replaced with 1920s Long Island. The cast snap to life and Nick introduces us to himself and the story that awaits.
Audience participation begins immediately, in a sophisticated and unobtrusive manner. Just enough to draw the audience into the experience. It is a novel approach for the seasoned theatre goer. Being acknowledged by the actors and included in the story brings a heightened element of drama that is almost addictive.
As the audience traverse through the rooms, following Nick on his adventures, it appears they become Nick themselves. The actors start referring to everyone as Nick and it is clear the audience have now become an integral part of the show.
The rooms are multisensory and fantastically whimsical. The set design is clever, with texturally rich spaces that invite audiences in. From rooms decorated with huge swathes of cloud patterned fabric to garden rooms with foliage and flowers that threaten to swallow the actors, each space is unique and visually impactful. The ballroom, which incorporates another bar, displays Jazz Age grandeur. Tall chandeliers hang from the sky, mirrors line the walls and the main focal feature is a giant illuminated crescent moon.
The audience are invited to mingle and get drinks – almost like an intermission – though the immersion does not cease. Actors interact with audience members, creating the feeling of really being at one of Gatsby infamous soirees. Live music underscores the gentle hubbub of casual chatter. Just before the audience threaten to become too complacent, they are immediately thrust back into the story and the drama continues.
Director Beth Daly does an outstanding job of coordinating this show. The blocking of the actors is fluid and dynamic, allowing all members of the audience to feel included and able to see the action, regardless of where they are standing.
Producer Aaron Robuck serves as the usher for the evening, as well as regaling the audience with his dulcet tones as he tickles the ivories in the ballroom.
The actors have to be commended for not only their fine acting ability and other talents (think singing, tap dancing and burlesque) but also their improvisational skills and ability to fearlessly interact with audiences. Nothing felt rehearsed or repetitive. It was as if the audience was a fly on the wall in these characters’ lives. Rijen Laine as the mysterious Jay Gatsby, Aleisha Rose as the delicate and demure Daisy Buchanan, Hannah Raven as the ever-sophisticated Jordan Baker and Michael Cameron as the bright-eyed and optimistic Nick Carroway were supported by the remained of the ten-strong cast.
Once the dramatic conclusion of the play brought the experience to an end, audiences were left with a feeling that they had experienced something. That they had walked in the shoes of Nick Carroway and actively participated in this tragic tale, veiled in twinkling lights. It would not be surprising to find that those who see this production leave with a special place for ‘The Great Gatsby’ in their hearts and a sneaking feeling that they have just travelled in time to a world almost forgotten.