The Great Gatsby

Court One, Christchurch

25/07/2009 - 22/08/2009

Christchurch Arts Festival 2009

Production Details

THE GREAT GATSBY, one of the Twentieth Century’s most celebrated novels, is given new life in a uniquely theatrical adaptation in its world première at The Court Theatre.

Accomplished NZ playwright Ken Duncum approached Artistic Director Ross Gumbley in 2007 with an idea to adapt F Scott Fitzgerald’s story of power, wealth and temptation for the stage. Gumbley immediately saw the potential in the project and The Court Theatre commissioned Duncum for the project.

"As a novel, THE GREAT GATSBY is almost perfect," says Gumbley, no stranger to adapting written works for the stage himself, "Ken’s script gives the story a real theatricality. Even in the first workshop we could see the piece was going to be stunning theatre."

"The thing is to be truthful not accurate," Duncum adds. "I am respectful of Fitzgerald as an artist, but he wasn’t writing a play. My hope is for people to be able to access the story in the most immediate way possible. Fitzgerald was still in his twenties when he wrote this novel and no one saw it coming. It’s bloody fantastic, but I’m not trying to write a novel. I’m trying to present the book in a new way on stage."

Set in New York in the early 1920s, Fitzgerald’s novel follows the journey of Nick Carraway into a world of wealth and indulgence through an association with his mysterious neighbour Jay Gatsby. As Nick is drawn deeper into Gatsby’s world, he is caught up in a story of love, longing and loss.

After a series of workshops and rehearsal process, Gumbley describes THE GREAT GATSBY as "a magic trick – everything that is on stage at the beginning of the play is used to create the story". The cast (seven actors and a musician playing piano, clarinet and saxophone) never leave the stage; as Gumbley puts it "the story is brought to life almost as a party game by the ghosts of Gatsby’s mansion."

THE GREAT GATSBY debuts on July 25th and runs until August 22nd as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival.

Venue:  Court One, The Court Theatre, Christchurch
Production Dates:  25 July – 22 August 2009
Performances:  6pm Monday / Thursday; 7:30pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (no show Sundays); 2pm matinee Saturday 1 August
Tickets:  Adults $42, Senior Citizens $35, Tertiary Students $25, School Children $15, Group discount (20+) $33, Matinee (1 Aug) $29
Bookings:  The Court Theatre, 20 Worcester Boulevard; 963 0870 or 

Daisy Buchanan - Claire Dougan
Jay Gatsby - Michael Hallows
Nick Carraway - Phil Brown
George Wilson - Tim Bartlett
Tom Buchanan - Jon Pheloung
Myrtle Wilson - Sandra Rasmussen
Jordan Baker - Amy Straker
Musician - Jennie Gough


2hrs 30min, incl. interval

The shell of alienation cracked

Review by Lindsay Clark 26th Jul 2009

Adapted works are met increasingly often in this post-modern climate, where text of all kinds is up for deconstruction and reconstruction, often one version being a shrewd comment on the other.

The leap from page to stage is never more fraught than when it crosses from ‘tell me’ to ‘show me’ territory, especially when the tale in question has become the byword for a period – F Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz age in this case. It is a brave soul who makes the leap where most, apart from the 1974 film with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, have not lingered in the halls of fame.

The work for stage must, of course, be viewed in its own right and the play experienced as if we had never heard of Daisy and Jay or their trashy ways. Certainly a production of Ken Duncum’s adaptation demands a rational approach so that we are never in danger of falling under the hypnotic spell of the hedonistic world of the novel.

Under Ross Gumbley’s enterprising direction, much is achieved, especially in the second half as the plot line is established more securely.

Set in the 1920s, it opens stunningly as Nick Carraway, our narrator, enters through the shuttered up window of Gatsby’s deserted mansion on Long Island, to draw from the shadows the memory ghosts of lives that were lived there.

He explains how, through family connections, he meets up not only with his ‘old moneyed’ cousin Daisy, but also with her blustering husband Tom and her friend Jordan. In contrast to their materialistic and pleasure driven existence, the world of Tom’s mistress Myrtle and her garage mechanic husband in the scungy ‘valley of ashes’ is also encountered.

But it is the relationship with his mysterious neighbour, ‘new money’ Gatsby, that sets the real story alight. For Gatsby met up with Daisy long ago, without the means at that stage to marry her, and now their romance sets in train events which bring dreams to a tragic end, and a sense of futility and impotence where hope and ambition had flourished.

The choice of Brechtian staging with the ensemble permanently in view, supplying sound and props, changing scenes and roles, providing effects such as a jostling crowd, is always interesting but the very energy, bustle and sense of purpose thus generated does sometimes prevent scenes from settling and is often at odds with the densely poetic language of the narrator. Perhaps the use of captions or projected titles was considered and rejected but it might have provided a sharper medium for lining up time and place, leaving comment and insight to the spoken words.

It is not intended of course that we should engage emotionally with characters in this see-through world, but Michael Hallows as Gatsby does convey something of the ultimate vulnerability of wanting. Similarly, Sandra Rasmussen as a hard-life Myrtle and Tim Bartlett playing her desperate husband Wilson, do crack the shell of alienation and give us a human face.

Clare Dougan handles the difficult role of Daisy with aplomb and is nicely contrasted with a stylish ‘decisive’ Jordan, played by Amy Straker. Phil Brown as Nick, Jon Pheloung as Tom, and Jennie Gough, an important musician on the side, complete a strong ensemble which drives the play along.

In production values the play is very strong. Tony Geddes delivers an appropriately crumbling shell of the mansion world and Elizabeth Whiting’s costumes are a triumph of versatility without losing their impact as emblems of wealthy materialism. Together with Luke Di Somma’s musical composition, they bring a fresh face to an interesting production.
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