“You need to buy some aspirin?” drawls the man greeting you at the side door that appears to be the entrance. The immersion begins right from the start. Upstairs the “drugstore” is a low-lit cocktail bar, where people are mingling in flapper dresses and suits with spats. You learn later that the drugstore is a front for bootlegging alcohol by Gatsby, the illusive main character. You’re not sure who are the actors and who are the audience. Someone approaches you at the bar and asks what part of New York you’re from. You realise it’s already started.
The performance takes places across several rooms upstairs in what I presume used to be stockrooms in Woolworths. The décor is shabby and intimate. At one point my partner and I are accosted by Gatsby himself out of an audience of one hundred and fifty, and taken to his bedroom so that he can give us a message to pass on to another character.
One of the things I liked so much about this interpretation is that despite knowing almost nothing about the story, I picked up key elements quickly. I certainly wasn’t bored or distracted (which I can be to prone to). I imagine the performance works better if you view it as pieces of a puzzle. Everyone gets a different experience, with small groups being taken off into separate rooms for different elements of the plot. If you wanted to capture it all you’d be disappointed. But if you want to lose yourself in another time and place, you can be swept away in it.
In a world of 3D cinema and virtual reality headsets, this felt like the real deal. The actors were so close sometimes you felt you had to take a step back to give them some personal space. And the performers were so in character I didn’t recognise one of the leads afterwards, even though his appearance had barely changed.
I haven’t written this to be a “theatre review” – I’ve never read the book and I don’t know much about theatre. I wrote this to give a feel for the experience, which I found captivating. The Guild of Misrule is taking the show to London next and the Theatre Delicatessen’s programme begins again in February. I’m really hoping the venue is used in a similar way again soon.
Words: Kathryn Cousins