Mini Review from London–GATZ

by Lynn on July 9, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Noel Coward Theatre, London. Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Directed by John Collins. Set by Louisa Thompson. Costumes by Colleen Werthmann. Lighting by Mark Barton. Sound by Ben Williams. Starring: Jim Fletcher, Scott Shepherd, Susie Sokol, Lucy Taylor, Gary Wilmes.

Produced by the Elevator Repair Service.

We’re in a makeshift office. There are two old desks facing each other. An old fashioned computer and screen are on one table. There are shelves stage left full of boxes of files. A man enters the office sipping a take-out coffee. He takes off his raincoat, underneath is a shirt and tie and nice pants. No jacket. He puts his coat on a kind of hookless coat tree—perhaps it’s a tripod for films. Makeshift is the word.

He goes to his computer. Turns it on and nothing happens. No screen. He counts to ten. He tries again. Nothing. Frustrated. He looks in a rolodex and finds a soft cover book to his surprise. He begins reading aloud. It’s The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The story of a mysterious, rich man born Gatz who changed his name to Gatsby (Jay is the first name we think). Who was in love from afar with Daisy Buchanan who was married to a jealous man. It ended badly for Gatsby and others as well.

Fellow office workers arrive. Our man keeps reading, perhaps looking up and nodding a greeting to whoever comes in. Others look askance occasionally at our reader. He ignores them. Eventually the others take on the characters in the book. Our reader/narrator is Nick. A man in the desk opposite our reader takes on the role of Gatsby. They only speak the dialogue and do ‘business.’ At one point a person knocks over a drink on the desk and Nick reads that a person knocked over a drink on the table.

This opened in New York to great clamour. People falling all over themselves to see this epic theatre that lasts eight hours. In London we went in at 2:30 and limped out at 10:45 with two 15 minute intermissions with a 90 minute dinner break. So in fact it was ‘really’ six hours of the show.

At the first intermission (after two hours of reading) my friend Larry turned to me and said that he really didn’t want to spend any time with any of the characters. I had to agree with him. But we did stay.

We stayed as Scott Shepherd (as Nick or narrator) read every single word in a clear, unexpressive voice. It wasn’t a monotone. Just not engaged. He did react when a truth comes out in the book. He did not give any suggestion that he was engaged in the story at the beginning, which makes one wonder what it was that captivated him to continue to read.

We stayed as there was a wild party re-enacted in that office of various characters throwing files of papers up in the air, and flicked playing cards, and then cleaned up everything.

We stayed when the thread of the story got lost in the stuff of enacting the dialogue and the various comments of behaviour of the characters. We would love to have lingered over some description, or had it re-read, but that’s what happens when we read to ourselves, not when others read to us.

We stayed and were mighty impressed when we realized that Scott Shepherd probably memorized every single word of the book. The last chapter was recited with the book closed on the desk. At times he read in light so muted I knew he couldn’t see the words on the page.

And we had a good discussion on the way to the tube wondering what the fuss was about. It’s not ‘theatre’. It’s reading a book in it’s entirety to a group of paying customers when it would have been more effective and cheaper to have given us all a copy of the book and told us to knock ourselves out and read it ourselves, and to take our time.

This whole exercise is a gimmick. A wank. Trickery. It didn’t illuminate the book or even really show us why this is a great classic. For that we need to read it ourselves and take our own time, and appreciate the descriptions and Fitzgerald’s comments.

Scott Shepherd is also a member of the Wooster Group that played Toronto in World Stage. I found that experience a wank too. Good to see him in another role. He memorized the whole book. A huge accomplishment. And the point is??????

Leave a Comment