Transported to the roaring twenties, under the starry night sky and amidst the elegant backdrop of St Paul’s Church, Tethered Wits Theatre’s rendition of “The Great Gatsby” created a wonderful way to spend a summer evening (even if sometimes a bit chilly). The cast captured the essence of Fitzgerald’s classic with a contemporary flair. I felt like creating a vision of a lavish party in a simple setting of a church entrance could be challenging (ok, I thought it was potentially impossible), but the Tethered Wits team successfully tackled the challenge head-on.
“The Great Gatsby” is quite a classic, but I’m sure there are some audience members who might have read the book quite some time ago (full disclosure: I haven’t read the book, but I’ve seen the 2013 Baz Luhrmann movie). So here’s a quick recap: Set against the backdrop of the exhilarating 1920s New York, the story unfolds through the eyes of Nick Carraway, who introduces us to the lavish lives of the city’s elite, complete with glittering parties and hidden intrigues.
Amid this whirlwind of extravagance, a mysterious figure named Jay Gatsby emerges—a self-made millionaire with a penchant for throwing extravagant soirées. However, beneath the glitz and glamour lies a tale of unrequited love and unattainable dreams. Gatsby’s obsession with the enigmatic Daisy Buchanan, his former lover, drives him to great lengths to recreate a past that may never truly belong to him again. As the narrative unfolds, layers of deception, desire, and disillusionment are peeled back, exposing the bitter realities behind the façade of opulence. The 2013 movie adaptation added its stylized flair, but this stage production promises a fresh perspective, inviting us to rediscover the timeless themes and intricacies of Fitzgerald’s iconic tale.
Ok, so that’s covered. Now, about the show. Under the talented direction and adaptation by Emma Hodgkinson, the talented ensemble delivers a performance that’s as glittering as Gatsby’s parties themselves. The cast of 5 is young, multi-talented and full of energy – everyone plays multiple characters – and uses various instruments throughout the show. Rory Dulku captures the enigmatic essence of Gatsby with his vibrant voice and undeniable charm, embodying the allure of a self-made millionaire who craves more than the shimmering surface.
Olivia Willis, portraying the elusive Daisy Buchanan, exuded a magnetic allure, drawing viewers into her world of opulent enchantment. Oliver Stockley’s role as Nick Carraway carried the weight of delivering extensive monologues and expositions, and he executed this challenging task with remarkable skill. His composed and lucid voice was a flawless fit for the role of guiding the audience through the action in the play. His portrayal was particularly demanding, given that Nick is the sole “likeable” character in the narrative, yet he effortlessly captured the audience’s affection and engagement from the very outset.
Standout instances included the intense face-off between Gatsby and Tom, along with the emotionally charged finale that encompassed resonating gunshots. However, the conclusion left me somewhat perplexed. The portrayal of Myrtle’s demise resembled drowning more than a car accident – a creative approach that, while appreciated, added a touch of ambiguity that slightly muddled the scene’s clarity.
*Let me just add – the show includes some triggers and loud noises – they are not really covered on the shows website, so if you want to know more I would recommend DMing the Tethered Wits on IG.
Selecting St. Paul’s Church as the backdrop for this immersive endeavour was a stroke of sheer brilliance. The simplistic yet grand visual factor of the church created an evocative backdrop, while the fairy-lit garden surrounding the stage seamlessly conjured the illusion of Gatsby’s extravagant garden parties. I even felt like the action was happening closer to home – as “West Egg” at times sounded like “West End”…
The seating was arranged in rows of long benches surrounding the stage, with a very decent view – you would always be close to the stage, with just 5 rows of seats. But word of caution – do bring your cushion or scarf to sit on, as the wooden benches are quite unforgiving for sensitive bums. Tethered Wits’ show felt like more than just a regular show, and more like a fun social event. I spotted many audience members dressed up in 1920s dresses, which added to the party atmosphere. There was a small bar where you could get drinks and ice cream, making it feel even more like a celebration. And a trip to the loo located inside the church was quite an attraction by itself.
Plenty of 1920s props and decorations were used in the tiny space of the church entrance – and even though it’s a touring outdoor production, it all together gave a well-rounded impression, with potted plants, decorative seats and a flower pergola. And the splendid garden surrounding the stage, aglow with fairy lights, mirrored the intoxicating ambience of Gatsby’s legendary soirées.
I enjoyed the creative way in which the cast created a feel of driving a retro car – using 2 decorative umbrellas as wheels and a tray as a driving wheel, turning 3 people sitting on a stage into a legit car scene. But it felt quite repetitive after a couple of times.
The music by Cole Porter and George Gershwin added a touch of nostalgia and excitement. But (It’s a big but), I wished the actors used portable microphones, as the noise from Covent Garden sometimes interrupted the performances. Street performers were doing their thing at the other side of the building, plus some loud people were singing and even a couple of ambulances passing by – it was a busy Saturday evening! The music was blasted from big speakers and was clear – but was a bit too loud for the situation at times, as you couldn’t hear the actors (I sat at the last row – maybe that’s just an issue with the back rows then?).
Big thank you to Tethered Wits for bringing this production to the gardens of the UK this summer. And thank you for the big heart too – at the end of the performance it’s announced that the production also supports specific charities – a different one for each show (currently, besides Great Gatsby, you can also enjoy a production of Dr Dolittle). If you look into their full tour plan you’ll see they’ve been all around the country, playing in parks, gardens and churches (and even castles!) – so glad this is such a nice opportunity for audiences who wouldn’t normally attend theatre to break that first wall and experience it.
*I received the ticket in exchange for an honest review of the show
For more information and to book now visit: tetheredwits.com
DOCTOR DOLITTLE AT THE ACTORS CHURCH, COVENT GARDEN
THU 17 – THU 24 AUGUST
THE GREAT GATSBY AT THE ACTORS CHURCH, COVENT GARDEN
THU 17 – THU 24 AUGUST
DOCTOR DOLITTLE AT MORDEN HALL PARK
FRI 25 AUGUST – 4:00PM
THE GREAT GATSBY AT MORDEN HALL PARK
FRI 25 AUGUST – 7:30PM
THE GREAT GATSBY AT CHAPEL DOWN WINERY, TENTERDEN
SAT 26 – SUN 27 AUGUST
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