Gatz is not a play, it’s a commitment. It’s an eight-hour theatrical marathon. Granted, that includes two fifteen minute intervals and a dinner break, but it’s still an incredibly long evening at the theatre. Actually, it starts at 2:30 and goes until 10:45 or so- it’s an incredibly long afternoon and evening at the theatre. And it’s worth every minute. The premise is deceptively simple: a bored corporate drone finds an old copy of The Great Gatsby hidden inside his Rolodex, which he proceeds to read out loud. What transpires over the next eight hours is The Great Gatsby, every word of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of jazz age decadence and tragedy among New York’s wealthy elite, played out in a twenty-first century office.
There is no reason the very literal contemporary office setting should make sense for this story. It does. Placing the classic text within the drudgery of a typical workplace acts as an indictment of the American dream; the staff struggles day-in, day-out to achieve even a bit of what the protagonists have, and while they might not meet as sad an end as the characters of the beloved book, their lives are eminently meaningless. This one day, reading aloud as a group, seems to provide these worker-bees with a sense of community, so lacking in our digital world, feeding their imaginations and fueling their souls. Under the direction of John Collins, each of the twelve performers gives a fascinatingly nuanced performance- as both office drudge and twenties flappers or sheiks, though it is Scott Shepherd as Nick Caraway, the narrator, who gives the performance of the night. The text is paramount; Mr. Shepherd, the Gatz website claims, knows every word of the novel by heart. Yes, he’s been performing the piece for close to six years now, but it is nevertheless an impressive feat. He flows effortlessly from delivering the first-person narration to Nick’s dialogue to the myriad other miscellaneous characters ascribed to him.
One cannot help but enter the Noel Coward Theatre with trepidation- how on Earth could this be a watchable performance? Gatz makes a name for itself by relying on the talents of its team, and the beautiful novel at the heart of the project. With a different director or a less-capable cast, this could have been a deadly evening; instead, it was near perfect.
Gatz plays as part of the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT), Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through 15th July.