Blackeyed Theatre presents the premiere of Stephen Sharkey’s stage adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic, a tale set amid the decadence of America’s Jazz Age.
“For the first quarter of the play you don’t see Gatsby, but you hear about him, and it is as if he has been created by everyone’s imagination,” Eliot says. “He becomes this almost-mythical figure… and then you realise he has built his whole life. For five years he has devoted himself to a single dream of being able to turn back time to win back the love of his life. It’s like a fairy tale. He has accumulated fabulous wealth in the hope of winning her back… and yet she is not worthy. And yet his dream is quite pure.
“There are times in the book and the play which are so touching, like when he is showing Daisy everything he has, all his shirts. He is like a little boy showing off. He is like an overwound clock. He almost can’t hold it all together. There is something so childlike about him at that point. But when you step back from it all, it is all so totally unbelievable… and yet you are drawn into the story. That’s what I mean by fairy tale.”
Blackeyed Theatre has been going about a decade, Eliot says: “Adrian (McDougall) set it all up as a commercial enterprise. There is no funding, but from the very beginning he wanted it to have real integrity while at the same time offering things that people would want to see. He does a lot of new commissions, and he really does care about his work as a producer. It means he gives you freedom as a director.”
Eliot also works as an actor – though for The Great Gatsby he is purely the director.
“I think it really helps. It means that when you are directing you can think as an actor would. I see myself as a poor man’s Mark Rylance! Definitely the acting and the directing feed off each other. If you have got an insight into how an actor’s mind works, then you should be better at creating an environment in which everyone can do their best work, and then if everyone does their best work, they get a sense of ownership.
“Some directors in my experience can create a terrible atmosphere in the rehearsal room where people feel inhibited and lose their confidence. A lot of it comes down to people skills. You have got some directors that have a fantastic vision but just can’t communicate or who just think it is all about them! It’s about a balance. It doesn’t necessarily mean that every actor can be a director, but it is so important to have that empathy.”
As Eliot says, a lot of people will know The Great Gatbsy through the Leonardo DiCaprio film: “And that’s a good way in. The Great Gatsby is a loved text by people in the literary world. People revere it, and I think the film brought the text to a whole new young audience, but what I hope I have done with the play is a very true rendering of the novel, which is different from the film, but hopefully the film will have created a great underswell of good will towards the story.”
Tickets on 023 9264 9000.
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