To celebrate Nottingham New Theatre’s charity performance of The Great Gatsby at the Lakeside Arts Centre, Impact Arts interviewed director, Laura Jayne Bateman, and producer Gigi George, who also happens to be performing the role of Jordan in the show!
Tell us about the play. What influenced your adaptation and why did you choose to rewrite the novel for the stage?
Laura Jayne Bateman: The play is an hour-long, whistle-stop tour through one of the greatest novels in the English language. It is extremely faithful to the story and the original text, but is interspersed with exciting features such as dance, silhouette work and use of ensemble. The novel itself is very theatrical, centred as it is around a man who ‘performs’ for an audience to conceal his true identity, so it seemed an ideal story to reimagine for the stage.
Stylistically, the adaptation was influenced by Dennis Kelly’s The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas in its use of ensemble, and by Incognito Theatre’s Dorian Gray in its use of physicality to aid the storytelling. But the main focus of this adaptation is the emotional core of Fitzgerald’s story; by sacrificing naturalistic visual spectacle, we are able to develop the characters and their relationships so much more, which is a huge element of what makes The Great Gatsby so enduring.
In a 1920s Jazz Age society full of opulence and splendour, do you think The Great Gatsby still has relevance to audiences and readers today?
LJB: The themes of The Great Gatsby have never seemed more relevant than they do today: inequality, xenophobia and consumerism are as rife in 2016 as they were in 1922, and that, alongside Fitzgerald’s glorious prose, is what makes The Great Gatsby such a timeless story.
It’s also a novel about aspiration and identity, two concepts which are particularly relevant to a student audience. All of us have ambitions for our futures, whether we’re first-years or PhD students, and it’s at university where many of us discover elements about ourselves we didn’t know existed. So although on the surface, the story can seem materialistic, even shallow, it masks complex and resonant ideas.
Gigi George: I may or may not be biased, but to me The Great Gatsby is a show that will never fail to be relevant. It’s iconic status and its inclusion of themes such as the importance of money and popularity are arguably just as important in society today as in the 1920s. For instance, in the 21st century it’s not how many people come to the decadent cocktail parties you throw, but how many Instagram followers you have!
After an extremely successful sell-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe, how do you think the production has developed from conception to this charity performance?
LJB: Since the project began in May 2015, one of the major developments has been the clarity of the concept. During the first production at NNT in December 2015, the show was in a gestation stage: it was still working out exactly what it wanted to be, and because the actors were also performing in other productions, we had less time than we would have liked to iron out the creases.
By the time we reach Edinburgh, however, the conventions we were using were much slicker and consistent, which meant the production was far more sophisticated and streamlined. Very little will change from the Edinburgh version for the charity performance, although we have a new Jordan Baker (as our original actress is working in London) which will alter certain character dynamics.
GG: Where do I begin? Since conception the show has evolved dramatically and I think it is fair to say that Gatsby today is almost unrecognisable from its debut back in 2015. For example, in order to make the show fit for Edinburgh we had to cut the script down massively.
Although it was difficult (actors do not like having their lines cut!), in a way, this worked in our favour as it meant we really focused on what was essential to the story-telling, rather than padding the show out with sections that were not actually crucial. Some of our actors have also changed, (we are now on our third Jordan!) and the set and lighting are in a different world altogether.
Without being too cliché, I would say that the show has matured, and really grown into itself. Now we are slicker and naturally so much more invested in the piece as it has been in our lives for so long.
What have you learned along the way?
LJB: Artistically, I’m beginning to develop a style. I’m learning what sort of work interests me and what sort of work I want to be staging, and the effect that work has on an audience. Practically, I’ve learnt too much to list here, but perhaps the most significant lesson is that the story is the most important thing: the sound system might break down, the lights might fail, the costumes might fall apart, but as long as you’re telling the story in a clear and engaging way, you won’t have failed.
GG: From being productions assistant on the first Gatsby, to becoming producer for the Edinburgh Fringe, to producing and acting for our charity show, it’s safe to say that I have learnt an awful lot. Never before have I been this challenged with a piece. In 2015 I could not have known what stepping onto the Gatsby set as a keen fresher would lead to. Now I can say that I’ve have produced a sell-out show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and I couldn’t be more proud.
Truly, it is one of the best things I’ve ever done, I have made incredible friends, and experienced the responsibilities and expectations that come with running a show in the real world. I also learnt which is the best nightclub in Edinburgh (it called Movement for anyone wants to know)!
Gigi, as an actor, what draws you to the role of Jordan, and what would you consider unique in your portrayal of her?
GG: Jordan is a character that I am very excited to have to have the opportunity of playing; she’s a someone you can have a lot of fun with. Ultimately, Jordan is a woman in a man’s world, she is independent and a polar opposite to her best friend Daisy. Granted, she’s a real challenge because she doesn’t give much away, but I’ve loved stepping into her shoes. She’s confident and sexy which allows you to really play around with her speech and body language.
Despite hiding under this sex appeal and allure, we catch glimpses of her vulnerability too. For instance, when her relationship with Nick crumbles, as an audience we can clearly see Jordan’s heart break and even anger with herself for allowing her guard to come down. In Fitzgerald’s chaotic and hedonistic world, it is refreshing to see that actually, some of the characters are human underneath.
In my performance, I’m going to try and focus on all of these aspects that make up Jordan (her sex appeal, startling confidence and headstrong nature) yet balance them with glimpses of the real and independent young woman that she hides underneath.
Why did you choose to put on a charity performance of The Great Gatsby? Does the chosen charity have any significance to the cast or to the story?
LJB: We enjoyed a sell-out run in Edinburgh so it was clear that there was an appetite for this story and our specific interpretation of it. It’s extremely rare, at the non-professional level, to get the audience numbers we had in Edinburgh, so it seemed right to harness the popularity of the show for a good cause. The charity we are supporting is Nottingham Life Cycle 6, a campaign which over the last six years has raised over £2 million for breast cancer research.
The university’s very own Vice-Chancellor cycled 1,400 miles for the charity in August, and every penny of our ticket sales will be used to support the 140 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer every day in the UK.
Sum up this charitable production of The Great Gatsby in three words?
LJB: Gripping, sophisticated and unpredictable.
GG: Unique, fast-paced, unmissable.
Questions by Amy Wilcockson
Image credits: Natalia Gonzalez
‘The Great Gatsby’ is running at Lakeside Arts’s Djanogly Theatre on Monday 17th October at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £5 and all proceeds got to the charity Nottingham Life Cycle 6. For more information and to book tickets, see here.