Ruby in the Dust has form with F Scott Fitzgerald, with its musical adaptation of The Great Gatsby to receive its third London run this winter. The less well-known The Last Tycoon, unfinished at Fitzgerald’s death in 1940, turns its attentions to the opposite coast, depicting Hollywood through a less than flattering lens.
Surely the novel can’t be as prosaic as Simon Levy’s adaptation? Filled with dreary debates between men in suits weighing up the conflict between artistic integrity and turning a profit, there’s also an unconvincing romance and some clumsy gangster shenanigans. Hollywood spectacle is certainly a challenge to evoke in such a small venue and it would make sense to emphasise the seediness and shattered dreams. However, Linnie Reedman’s production is neither sparkling nor noir-ish, not helped by some strange lighting.
It isn’t entirely Simon Victor’s fault that workaholic hero Monroe Stahr comes across as bit of a bore. Hero Douglas sings and plays the harp prettily as the studio boss’ precocious daughter Cecilia, but is something of an emotional void as a narrator. EJ Martin brings a welcome touch of elegance to the proceedings as the enigmatic British beauty who reminds Stahr of his late wife, and who manages to imbue the artificial dialogue with some poignancy in her conflicted enjoyment of a brief encounter with no future.
Interspersed with clips of real films of the time to illustrate Stahr’s perfectionism, glimpses of the likes Garbo and Gable only rub in the fact that this show is far more B movie than A-list Hollywood classic.