New York theatre company Elevator Repair Service has come up with the definitive rule on how a novel should not be adapted for the stage. Don’t spend eight hours reading the entire book out loud, word for word, and then call it a play. That would never work. Except, with stage craft, and a great idea that sees F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 masterpiece The Great Gatsby performed in a banal office by bored office workers, it works brilliantly well.
We have the newly energised LIFT (London International Festival of Theatre) to thank for bringing this New York show to London. Scott Shepherd plays the worker who takes on the role of Fitzgerald’s narrator Nick by picking up a copy of the book while waiting for his computer to reboot. Slowly, like a virus, the story infects every one of the office workers. Each of them takes on a character but the dialogue stays rooted to the copy of the book held by Shepherd.
Over the eight hours there are breaks, of course. Director John Collins manages to integrate the drudgery of office life without ever diverting from Fitzgerald’s prose. And apart from casually antisemitic descriptions of Meyer Wolfsheim, Gatsby’s Jewish gambler associate, Fitzgerald’s exquisite prose here becomes a concert of perfect sentences, transporting descriptions and humbling insights into the human heart.