No Mills and Boons;Reviews;Set Plays

10th April 1998 at 01:00
THE GREAT GATSBY. Stage One Theatre Company.

Poor Jay Gatsby.

In Stage One Theatre's adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald's novel he is no longer the romantic figure we have grown used to when watching the film versions with Robert Redford or Alan Ladd. We are back to a story of loss - loss of humanity in a harsh world in which Gatsby's material success rings hollow. We are back to Fitzgerald's poetic apocalypse.

There is an attempt to restore the balance of the novel by bringing George Wilson, the garage mechanic who eventually shoots Gatsby, to centre stage.

Wilson is the flip side of Gatsby; he is the Gatsby who did not make it.

Director Greg Banks and writer Phil Smith have set up two contrasting worlds.

Wilson lives in a dismal, depressing wasteland where people are struggling with their humanity. It is very much T S Eliot's kind of wasteland, and Fitzgerald is struggling with the same monstrous doubts. Gatsby's party is as we would expect, with everyone dressed in pink and cream and having a swell time.

The stage action begins with a row between Wilson and his wife. It is a full blown, nasty, unpleasant row. She leaves him and is killed in a car crash, the accident that takes place towards the end of the novel. There are four major scenes of flashback and then we are back to the crash again, but from a different viewpoint.

'George is taking the focus away from Gatsby and we are giving a way in, an entry for the audience,' explains Banks. 'If we look at rich people first it is quite hard to identify with them but George gives us an attitude to the play. By observing the other characters, particularly Gatsby, from George's painful perspective, we can identify with and share the frustration of all of them.

'With a novel of so many ideas it is important to isolate the action, because theatre is essentially about action. Although the play contains ideas, we have to watch something happening.' Music plays an important part in the production, although it is not strictly a musical. The cast play instruments on stage, but music is not a confection; it is an integral part of the play.

It gives atmosphere and often drives the action.

Actor Colin Stevens will be playing Gatsby as an ordinary, working-class man who has found dubious ways to make money to fulfil his dream.

'This casting is interesting and it will surprise. It pushes the story into a much grittier place,' explains Banks. 'Stops it being Mills and Boon, gets you in touch with a man who would have had to kill people, done a few dirty deals and punched a few people in the face. Looking at Robert Redford in the film you can't imagine him doing that.' Touring until late June. For details, tel: 0181 778 5213.

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