Reviewed: Great Gatsby at the Vault Festival
Ever since I was introduced to the concept of time travel, from spending my Saturday nights as a boy watching Doctor Who and Back to the Future marathons, I’ve always wondered which time periods I’d travel back to. But after attending The Guild of Misrule’s immersive Great Gatsby play at Vault Festival, the Roaring 1920s will definitely be added to my list. My experience began by knocking on a door with a sign reading ‘’Drugstore closed, knock for deliveries’’ at which point I was greeted by a doorman asking if I was here for the drugstore, to which I replied, ’Yes, Sir, I’am’, in my GCSE Drama level American accent. I was then led into a dance hall filled with audience members in their best 1920s attire and characters from The Great Gatsby like Daisy, George, Mr Buchanan and Mr Gatsby himself.
The first thing that becomes clear is the wonderful and extensive set design which has turned a large section of The Vaults into a very convincing 1920s era dance hall. As well as a dance hall, the set also includes a bedroom, balcony, office, and a living room to which the actors take small groups of audience members at different points of the show for more intimate experiences like gossiping about the behaviour of other characters, a game of blackjack, truth or dare, and my personal favourite: dancing the Charleston (which is much harder than it looks).
The ability to follow the story through different activities dictates how you experience the plot; I spent most of the night following the subplot, of Myrtle and her car-mechanic husband George, which involved playing spin the bottle and dancing the Charleston while George played a mean stride piano. These intimate moments highlighted the actors’ talent for improvisation as they skilfully adapted to the responses and actions of audience members. As well as being fun to watch, these scenes also developed the characters in a natural and very engaging way. The more important plot points usually took place in the dance hall with the audience crowded around the actors.
As fun a way this is to experience a story, this approach did make me feel like I was skimming through the book rather than following the story cover to cover. However, despite this, the performance captures the spirit of the book largely through the commitment, skill and energy shown by the actors, the fun and lively music, and the dance numbers. So, whether you’re a fan of the book or just looking for a fun night out, don’t throw away your shot to travel back to the 1920s, after all no one throws a party quite like Mr Gatsby.