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Northern Ballet

'The Great Gatsby'

by Charlotte Kasner

May 14, 2013 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, UK

You wait for ages, then two come along at once. It is nearly forty years since the Robert Redford/Mia Farrow film of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, yet merely four days after a new film version is released, we have David Nixon’s production for Northern Ballet. Probably Fitzgerald's most popular novel, it is however in danger of being swamped by its art deco surroundings: the Redford/Farrow fill sparked an ersatz ‘20s fashion boom and this version does not shy away from being gorgeous.

Jerome Kaplan’s set is stunning. George’s garage has more than a hint of Hopper’s “Gas”, although that was painted eighteen years after the date in which Fitzgerald set his novel. He also captures a sense of space and the suggestion of shadows cast by venetian blinds across the set for Myrtle and Tom’s flat is positively film noir, creating a sense of detachment as the tragedy unfolds. He is ably assisted by Tim Mitchell’s lighting which creates evocations of dawn, summer nights and a sunset.

The plot gets a little lost along the way. It is not clear how Gatsby meets Nick; in fact Nick’s character is not clearly defined at all. The confusion over who was driving the car, so vital to an understanding of the ending is also rather buried. The drama of the accident cannot be faulted though, not least because of a very strong performance by Victoria Sibson as Myrtle. Martha Leebolt as Daisy and Tobias Batley as the eponymous hero are also very effective. The device of constantly repeating Gatsby's memories of Daisy during the First World War is very clever especially when three pairs of dancers dance behind the window creating distorted images of Gatsby and Daisy during their pas de deux. The acting is strong throughout and the sense of tension during the build-up to the accident is immense.

Nixon’s choreography is patchy though. Whilst the soloists have strong, interesting work, the corps lapse into cliché. Group dances are dull and too long and there is no sense of the desperation with which that generation of bright young things partied, nor of the decadence and drugs that abounded. It is more of a jolly romp in pretty dresses. What it needs is more “Les Biches” and less “Thoroughly Modern Millie.

It was stroke of inspiration to use the recently deceased Richard Rodney Bennett’s music. It zips together well and covers a wide range from jazz to film. The orchestration by John Longstaff and Gavin Sutherland is lush, with a particularly effective pas de trios set to percussive jazz.

It is a brave attempt that works in places and certainly provides and entertaining evening, if not quite succeeding on all counts.

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