The crafting of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby into a piece of musical theatre was never going to be a straightforward task. At face value this jazz age novel practically screams out for musical treatment but a woeful lack of sympathetic characters, a deeply flawed hero and a bleak ending are massive obstacles to overcome in song.
Sean Browne (Gatsby) and Matilda Sturridge (Daisy) in The Great Gatsby Musical at the King's Head, London Photo: Patrick Dodds
Composer and lyricist Joe Evans’ approach is to pare down Gatsby’s actual presence in the show if not the story, making Jay Gatsby an enigmatic outsider rather than the thrust of the narrative. To a greater extent this tactic works well and despite an alarming lack of fully realised musical numbers Joe Evans’ score manages to capture both the hedonism and the deep despair of the age.
The ensemble cast embrace the spirit of the piece and there are some particularly fine performances most notably from Steven Clarke as an intensely unlikeable Tom Buchanan. Clarke is a fiery presence on the small stage and although he often dominates a scene he never steals it needlessly. Raphael Verrion brings a quiet intensity to the role of Nick Carroway, which balances perfectly against Peta Cornish’s pert, perceptive Jordan Baker. Matilda Sturridge’s Daisy Buchanan is utterly absorbing, numbing the pain of a failing marriage with too many mint juleps while tortured by the re-emergence of her lost love, Sean Browne’s inscrutable Gatsby.
Linnie Reedman’s direction on the tiny King’s Head stage is economical and fluid, although the choreography is distinctly hampered by a lack of space and despite Ruby In The Dust’s strong production values, this is really an early draft of a musical that shows a great deal of promise.