For its first few minutes this immersive version of The Great Gatsby feels like a fancy dress party with some theatre tacked on as an afterthought. Then the company perform one of several well-executed reveals and it’s clear that this is a more ambitious undertaking.
The production, the work of the Immersive Ensemble and the Guild of Misrule, has previously been seen in York and Sheffield. It’s the Vault Festival’s big-ticket show, running for the full six weeks and occupying one of the largest (and least clammy) rooms in this sprawling mass of tunnels, with a transfer already on the cards for the summer.
As well as a main space, housing the (eye wateringly expensive) bar, there are several smaller nooks and corners, allowing for more intimate encounters. What’s impressive is how many of the book’s emotional notes the cast manage to strike while simultaneously shepherding large numbers of tiddly audience members in flapper dresses around the place. The level of narrative clarity achieved in Alexander Wright’s adaption is also notable, especially given how often the cast are obliged to bust out Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing.
There are one-on-one encounters to be had with Thomas Maller’s suitably intimidating and boorish Tom and Veronica Hare’s blousey Myrtle, while Dan Dingsdale’s Nick Carraway elegantly knits everything together (no small job). The company might not have a Punchdrunk-sized budget to play with but Robert Readman and the design team have made the space atmospheric.
Fitzgerald’s novel of ambition, privilege and the protective cocoon of wealth, has lost none of its potency. Costume has always been integral to the story – Gatsby’s gold tie, the cloud of shirts – and so it seems apt, if not a little ironic, that there as many pearls, sequins, two-tone brogues and feathers, in the audience as among the cast, and that, after the melancholy denouement, the music kicks in again, and the party continues.