The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel and a cornerstone of modernist literature, is a story that has arguably been told to death. Whether mention of it evokes agonising high school essays riddled with thematic analysis of ‘the American Dream’ or Baz Luhrmann’s gloriously indulgent 2013 film adaptation produced on our very own shores, there are little variations to still be had on the theme after 97 years.
Yet, the version of the tragic tale told by writer Aaron Robuck and director Beth Daly, where attendees are brought quite literally into the action, cranks up the immersion to keep things fresh and engaging. Substituting the opulent mansions of Long Island’s West Egg for the three-storied terrace that is Wonderland Bar in Potts Point, the ‘experience’ begins more or less as soon as audiences cross the threshold.
Attendees inhabit the role of Nick Carraway for the entirety of the production, as dutifully told to us by the man himself (Ryan Hodson). Befitting of the character, Hodson brings to the role a persona that trades the debonair charm of his contemporaries for an endearing, almost boyish naivety. His guidance from floor to floor of the terrace structure showcases the full range of Brendan de la Hay’s thoughtful production design which, while not completely faithful to the setting’s neoclassical roots, brings refreshing and creative takes to the interiors of the likes of the Buchanan household and Carraway’s verdant bungalow.
One particular moment set in the story’s gloomy ‘valley of the ashes’ took us out the front of the venue, where the high-strung drama bled out into the street, enough to capture bemused gazes from passersby and the glee of my 30 or so fellow attendees. Of singular mention, are the two ‘Gatsby party’ sections of the experience – essentially the intermissions – which unabashedly showcase the talents of the multi-hyphenate cast, read: tap dancing, barbershop singing and burlesque performances galore, in an open space where audience and characters improvise and mingle together
Topping out at around two-and-a-half hours, it’s not the constant movement but the length of the experience that made it feel a little laboured towards the end, when American accents occasionally faltered and the challenge of elevating the story’s melodramatic final act slightly remained. Nevertheless, what might seem gimmicky at face value is, for diehards and newcomers alike, assuredly rollicking and fun – and made all the better by the free glass of champagne that’s included.
Until Jun 26. Wonderland Bar, 24 Bayswater Road, Potts Point. $75-$85+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.explorehidden.com