With Baz Lurhman’s sumptuous take on F Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby only a short time away, the story is in the social conscious again and Northern Ballet’s take on the tale may be the perfect antidote to the OTT stylings of Lurhman. Right?
The classic story of Jimmy Gatz – now called Jay Gatsby (played by Tobias Batley) – a gangster who has fallen into great wealth through questionable means and, like all good literary characters, seeks to find his true love Daisy (Martha Leebolt) who he loved once and yearns to get back again even though she lives in East Egg now with her cheating husband Tom Buchanon (Kenneth Tinballtale), the Great Gatsy is a rich, sensual tale of gangsters, mistresses, death, money and lost love. And should be ideal for Any medium, given how it fills all the classic story types.
Told trough the eyes of the book’s original narrator, Nick Carraday (Giuliano Contadini), the story travels from the bustling streets of New York, to the dark setting of George and Myrtle Wilson’s (Victoria Sibson) garage, an unhappy home to a dying marriage. Tension is present throughout the story.
Northern Ballet’s production succeeds on many levels. David Nixon’s choreography is first rate, from the turmoil of the central characters to the swing time numbers of the 1920s that display a great mixture of ballet and jive that break up the heavier plot points and allow the characters to be not just one-dimensional plot devices but can also be fun when they aren’t knee deep in he more serious aspects of the story.
Jerome Kaplan’s set design too is awesome, with scenes changing at a breathtaking pace, the atmosphere and feelings of an overindulgent 1920s is unmistakable – as cliche as it sounds, you almost feel like you’re there.
However, a special mention must surely go out to Tim Mitchell’s lighting design. As a lighting engineer in a past life (or so it seems) myself, I pay close attention to this aspect of these productions and Mitchell impresses… greatly. From the smokey, yet rich, New York apartment to the dreamy and atmospheric pier where Gatsby thinks back to his first time falling in love with Daisy, with the lone lighthouse light blinking hauntingly in the background. The lights turn the sets into locations and the show is all the richer for it.
However, where the ballet falls short is in the narration. The book itself is a layered piece, with a narrative that thrives on irony and direct narrative, things that are difficult to put across in ballet. True, ballet has its own voice, but as Gatsby proves, it can be limited.
That’s not to say the show is bad, it isn’t, it’s just that the nuances and depth of Fitzgerald’s novel are lost, alienating anyone who is not already familiar with the plot. That said, once you find your feet, the first half of the show is a success, achieving the look and feel of the period and the eroticism drips from many of the scenes, even with homosexual undertones – perhaps symbolic of the excesses of the time – and a scene that all but simulates the act of sex itself. The mental state of the characters is clear, the relationships though are sadly somewhat lost in translation. And the second act, while the destination of tragedy is without doubt, feels rushed but it never lessens the impact of what is to come.
Overall, this is a beautiful take on the Great Gatsby, period accurate, rich and deep but sadly lacking in the translation. That said, the lighting, sets, performances, choreography and particularly the music, conducted here by Jon-Pryce Jones, are all a success. Overall the production does work on many levels, but it’s hard to get away from the thought that somewhere in here is a fantastic ballet that is still restrained but may some day be set free properly…
3 out of 5 Nerds