Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Regular readers of B&B may be somewhat surprised to see this review. We haven’t previously covered ballet, mainly because of a reluctance to show our general ignorance of the subject. But it is theatre, when all is said and done and, when we see that Northern Ballet’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby is to visit the city, it seems the logical choice for a starting point. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel is a story we already know, so we should have no problem following the action. And so it proves.
Actually, on reflection, Gatsby seems an inspired choice for the tricky metamorphosis of literature-into-dance. For one thing, those jazz-age excesses are perfectly suited to the medium and, for another, many of the novel’s most memorable scenes are built around visual motifs: the blinking green light of the Buchanan’s home on the horizon; those lavish parties frequented by alcohol-fuelled celebrities; the distorted reflections in the infamous room of mirrors.
Jay Gatsby (Joseph Taylor) spends his days reminiscing about his lost relationship with Daisy Buchanan (Abigail Prudames), back when he was a young soldier. He even gets to dance alongside his younger self (Harris Beatty), before four men in black raincoats and derby hats step out of the shadows and neatly illustrate how criminal activities turn Gatsby into the rich socialite he is today.
But wealth and success haven’t dulled the longing he still harbours for Daisy, who now lives with her husband, Tom (Lorenzo Trossello), and their little daughter – an adorable performance by Rosa Di Rollo – in their home across the bay (cue that blinking green light).
Into this turbo-charged atmosphere dances Daisy’s naive cousin, Nick Carraway (Sean Bates), who soon befriends Gatsby and then can only watch in dismay as he and Daisy become ever more entangled in a relationship that will surely end in tragedy.
This stirring adaptation also feels curiously cinematic, an effect heightened by Jérôme Kaplan’s brilliant set design, which contrives to present physical events – even an entirely convincing road accident – with absolute authority. And the dancing, of course, is sublime. While I freely admit that I don’t know the difference between an arabesque and a jeté, I’m still enraptured by the cavalcade of physical perfection that whirls and leaps and pirouettes around the stage with apparent ease. I particularly enjoy the earthy physicality of Riko Ito as garage mechanic George Wilson, driven to distraction by his wife Myrtle (Minju Kang)’s affair with Tom Buchanan – and also the wonderfully accomplished ensemble pieces, where those epic parties of the roaring twenties are lavishly enacted in perfectly-tailored suits and glittering cocktail dresses.
The music of the late Sir Richard Rodney Bennett provides the perfect accompaniment for the story, encompassing as it does elements of jazz, ragtime and sweeping, soulful grandeur. We even get to hear the great composer sing in the production’s penultimate piece, a heartfelt rendition of I Never Went Away, which offers a poignant preface to a brutal and shattering conclusion.
So there we have it it. As an introduction to an art form, The Great Gatsby offers everything I was hoping for. Also, it proves a propitious night for a first foray into ballet, as long time choreographer and director David Nixon OBE is about to step down from the role he’s occupied for twenty-one years.
An emotional onstage presentation duly ensues and a heartfelt standing ovation caps an evening that will linger in my memory.