Review by Abbie Gallagher
In a post-lockdown world, many of us dream of travelling somewhere new, somewhere we can forget reality if only for a moment. Well, it may not be the same as jumping on a plane, but when I attended Viral Ventures/Immersive Theatre AU’s production of The Great Gatsby on Sunday night, I was definitely transported somewhere beyond my wildest expectations.
Taking place at the Wonderland Bar in Potts Point, this innovative production wastes no time in establishing the mood from the moment you set foot inside the building. Production designer Brendan de la Hoy has pulled off something truly beautiful and enchanting by transforming every room into the world of F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. His attention to detail is exquisite and clearly created with great joy.
However, such impressive decor is merely a precursor to the main event. When the show begins, that’s when the magic truly happens.
The small audience of around 30 is guided through the story by protagonist Nick Carraway (Ryan Hodson), and they are quite literally in the middle of the action. Director Beth Daly had a difficult task with moving the actors around without losing focus, and she has absolutely risen to the challenge. At no point did I ever feel lost, or had my attention diverted from the action at the wrong moment.
Aside from the top-notch design and direction, the stellar cast had no weak links. Including Ryan Hodson’s beautifully reserved performance as Nick, the other iconic characters of Tom (Josh McElroy), and Daisy Buchanan (Jessica Redmayne), Jordan Baker (Hannah Raven) and Gatsby himself (Jay Peardon) are brought to life with aplomb, gravitas and just the right amount of humour while never straying from the emotional power when it truly counts.
Throughout the experience, I was struck by the stylised-yet-authentic character choices clearly made to establish that this story is completely told from Nick’s memories. Interestingly, Nick himself remains the least emotionally involved until the very end where he finally says no after being literally dragged from place to place for the sake of everyone around him.
The party scenes serve as intervals for the audience where we were treated to wonderful musical performances, champagne and burlesque dancing. However, I feel bound to point out that the one sour note of the entire night was the heavily intoxicated audience members who occasionally broke the ‘moment’. I can’t stress enough that this isn’t the fault of the cast or crew (and may very well have just been a one-off on the night I attended) but is certainly something to be aware of when booking.
Having studied The Great Gatsby myself for my HSC several years ago, I know the story well. However, I walked out of the Wonderland Bar feeling as if I understood the story so much better now. The novel is quite abstract in places, but this immersive experience brought home the humanity beneath the glitz and glamour of the 20s. And though there are plenty of laughs to be had in each scene, the ultimate tragedy of the piece is hard-hitting, and feels very well-earned.
I applaud The Great Gatsby for being so much more than a run-of-the-mill adaptation of a classic story. This is something which sucks you in and leaves you smiling, yet moved. It’s up for a long run at the Wonderland Bar, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Get your tickets and experience the wonder for yourself.
Image Credit: Aaron Lyon