From relatively humble beginnings at the 2017 Vaults Festival, The Guild of Misrule’s adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal novella has become the longest-running immersive theatre show in London.
I’m not sure if ‘The Great Gatsby’ has done the visitor numbers to match those for Punchdrunk’s sprawling epics. But if it hasn’t, it probably will soon: it’s just moved into a new, larger venue at a very multimillionaire-esque address just off Bond Street, dubbed Gatsby’s Mansion.
What’s the secret of its success? Frankly, it’s not because it’s a particularly faithful or incisive adaptation of the book. But it would be pretty weird if the reason audiences were flocking to it night after night was because they were all desperately in the mood for an elegiac takedown of the capitalist dream. Nope, this ‘Gatsby’ is effectively a big party. Most of the audience on the night I went turned up in the suggested 1920s fancy dress; the bar sells a truly lethal Old Fashioned; there’s bags of time to just hang out and chat with your friends; and the plot bits are more akin to a series of party games where the audience is divided into groups and taken away for small encounters with characters from the show. (My first one involved Jay Gatsby asking the room a maths question, which I somewhat improbably answered correctly, resulting in my being handed something like a quarter pint of neat gin.)
The cast are game enough (though if anyone ever addresses me as ‘old sport’ again, I might combust) and glistening chunks of Fitzgerald’s prose are sprinkled throughout the night like uncut jewels. But really, it’s no more articulate an adaptation than that gif of Leonardo DiCaprio toasting the camera. Although on the other hand, part of the point of the novel is that the guests who flock to Gatsby’s parties have fun without ever really knowing him. And on that somewhat ironic score the show has pretty much hit the nail on the head.