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The Great Gatsby review at the Fleeting Arms, York – ‘extraordinary’

The Great Gatsby at the Fleeting Arms, York. Photo: Chris Mackins The Great Gatsby at the Fleeting Arms, York. Photo: Chris Mackins
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There’s an exuberant – if not slightly sinister – atmosphere for this extraordinary piece of immersive theatre. Staged in the pop-up space of the Fleeting Arms in Gillygate, you’re directed around the back of the building by some hand-scrawled signs, and led up the fire escape steps by an unsmiling and intense man with a drawling New York accent – director Alexander Wright in the guise of a prohibition-era hustler.

If the introduction is slightly unsettling, then it’s an effective taster for what unfolds inside – a telling of The Great Gatsby as a lived experience. Arguments shatter the peace of a bar, an impromptu charleston kicks off and the novel’s characters lead groups of audience members away to different rooms within the three-storey building, which is decked out in posters and props from the era.

Seemingly taking the theme of the novel’s unreliable narrator – Nick Carraway – and running with it, the Guild of Misrule’s production has the feel of a circus hall of mirrors. Rumours are whispered by the actors to audience members, some of whom are spirited away to be told confidential information, so no one knows quite whose viewpoint to trust.

At one point, I find myself in an upstairs room alongside two others, with Tom Buchanan (Thomas Maller) and Daisy Buchanan (Amie Burns Walker) as she weepingly confesses to a crime, and am sworn to secrecy. It’s a fascinating set-up, staged by actors who sink comfortably into their roles – Oliver Tilney as Gatsby seems to exude wealth and breeding, until the shine hiding his vulnerabilities is picked away, with Maller’s boisterous bonhomie the mask for a frightening and vengeful Tom. It is a piece of theatre that captures all of Fitzgerald’s poetry, and the stink that hovers beneath the perfumed lives of its characters.

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A thrilling piece of immersive theatre that captures the poetry and despair of Fitzgerald's novel