Hailed as ‘The Great American Novel’, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is an iconic tale of decadence, death and desire. It epitomized the feel of the Roaring Twenties like nothing else: an era of flappers, libertines and bright young things, where ‘anything goes’ wasn’t just a phrase but a state of mind. The story continues to captivate nearly a hundred years since its publication and Northern Ballet’s thrilling take on the tale is bolder and more beautiful than ever – no wonder that it’s returns for its third smash-hit tour, which graces the New Theatre this week for five nights of dazzling decadence.
Long Island, 1922. New-in-town Nick Carraway (Sean Bates) strikes up a friendship with his affluent and enigmatic neighbour, Jay Gatsby (Joseph Taylor). Gatsby’s lavish parties are legend – but Gatsby seems interested only in the green light across the Bay, to which he stretches out his arm night after night: the light on the dock belonging to his true love, Daisy (Abigail Prudames). With Gatsby gunning to win her back, Daisy’s marriage to the brutish Tom Buchanan (Lorenzo Trossello) is about to be tested when his affair with the socially ambitious Myrtle (Minju Kang) takes a dangerous new turn.
Directed, designed and choreographed by David Nixon OBE, the show is a visual splendour from start to finish. It’s no surprise that Nixon was nominated for a UK Theatre Award and a National Dance Award for his work here: the stunning choreography and gorgeous costumes immerse you in the Jazz Age, taking you on a whistlestop tour through Gatsby’s world. Coupled with Jérôme Kaplan’s striking Art Deco-inspired sets and the sumptuous score by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett CBE, played live by Northern Ballet Sinfonia, and you have a production that’s a feast for the senses.
The ensemble is nothing short of perfection, bringing heart, soul and a jaw-dropping athleticism and grace. They convey a frenetic joy in the champagne-swilling speakeasies and sensual longing in every pas de deux. Heather Lehan oozes aloofness as socialite Jordan Baker, an effective foil to Bates’ nice-guy Nick. Minju Kang’s solos are a highlight, and the show soars whenever she shares the stage with Riku Ito (as her husband, George) and Trossello.
Taylor and Prudames are captivating as the doomed lovers at the story’s heart: they dance often in front of a wall of mirrors, but their reflections are distorted – just as their images of each other are – and they even mirror the movements of their younger selves, who dance behind them like echoes of the past.
Anyone who enjoys the themed weeks on Strictly Come Dancing will find a special joy in watching the show’s balletic spin on Charlestons and tangos, and flashbacks to Gatsby’s shady past are brilliantly conveyed through a phalanx of fedora-wearing crooks. Northern Ballet have captured every facet of the era’s excess, every lost love and lost chance: most of all, they have captured a sense of old-fashioned Hollywood glamour that you just don’t see these days. In their hands, Gatsby isn’t just great – it’s magnificent.
Northern Ballet: The Great Gatsby is at the New Theatre Cardiff from Tuesday 7 – Saturday 11 June
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