Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Thursday 19 September 2019

Jazz Age narcissism holds a mirror up to our times

The Great Gatsby, Gate Theatre, Dublin Until Feb 16

Immersive theatre: The Great Gastby returns to the Gate. Photo: Agata Stoinska
Immersive theatre: The Great Gastby returns to the Gate. Photo: Agata Stoinska

Katy Hayes

The Alexander Wright adapted/directed version of F Scott Fitzgerald's great novel of the American Jazz Age returns to the Gate for a Christmas twirl. It is an immersive show, where the audience is encouraged to dress up as if going to a 1920s party. The main auditorium has been emptied of seats and refitted, complete with a large curved staircase and a fancy "Jazz bar" selling Gatsby-themed cocktails.

All the key narrative scenes are played out in this area, but sometimes portions of the audience are drawn away in groups to witness more intimate scenes which flesh out the characterisations, but are not crucial to the storyline. The show lasts two-and-three-quarter hours, with a 20-minute interval.

The creative objective here is to enhance the experience of the audience by incorporating them into the show and it works spectacularly well; women in 1920s finery and dandified men were having a great time.

Ciaran Bagnall's set is hugely impressive, every nook and cranny is dressed for 1920s America. Peter O'Brien's costumes are delightfully elegant, though rivalled by some of the giddy flapper outfits sported by the audience.

Dancing set pieces, choreographed by Muirne Bloomer, add substantially to the gaiety. The audience even occasionally get in on the dancing act.

But where is the doomed money-drenched love affair between Gatsby and Daisy in this razzmatazz? That romantic core element was underpowered, but perhaps I ended up in the boudoir with Tom, Myrtle and Nick (a very funny, sexy scene), while other audience members may have gone with Gatsby and Daisy.

Mark Huberman makes a wonderfully thuggish Tom Buchanan, while Aoibhéann McCann strikes every note of flapper-fun and melancholy in the ultimately tragic figure of Myrtle Wilson. Shane O'Reilly as narrator Nick Carraway captures the also-ran quality of this enigmatic character perfectly.

For all its many seductive strengths, this immersive theatre has a downside. It demands self-consciousness from the audience, so you do not get the theatrical pleasure of forgetting yourself and getting lost in another world. The show becomes about you, the audience member. In this, it mirrors the burgeoning individualism of the "roaring 1920s" and its struggle against puritanism and conformity; this chimes with our own era of individualism and self-advertisement. Dress up, fix your hair, and take a selfie after the show on that beautiful curved staircase.

There's something about Mary

Woman Undone Project Arts Centre, Dublin Until tonight. Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, Nov 29

Singer Mary Coughlan has provided a brilliant and pugnacious backing track to the struggles of the modernising Irish woman over the past three-and-a-half decades. Here, she joins with  theatre company Brokentalkers and the band Mongoose to create a musical about her life.

This is an astute presentation of the psychological struggles of a young female artist trying to carve out a space for herself and her talent. An uneasy path is taken through teenage difficulties, encounters with abusive men, a traumatic relationship with her father and finally the empty ­consolations of booze.

Directors Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan pump up the theatricality at every turn, with lots of sophisticated flourish; a car crash is beautifully dramatised, as is the birth of baby Mary. Aspects of Coughlan's life were like a car crash, much of it well documented already. She is an incisive artist of the personal, as well as the political.

Star of the show is dancer Erin O'Reilly who embodies the singer as a teen and young woman, with a performance of pure expressivity. But finally, we're seeing a surplus of women as victims on the Irish stage. A bit more of Coughlan the musical goddess, riding high on her triumphal achievement, would be welcome.

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