It’s not every day a reviewer is invited to review a show in a brothel. Well, to be accurate, a former brothel. However, now re-purposed as Wonderland Bar, this handsome heritage mansion, lavishly tarted-up by designer, Brendan de la Hay provides the perfect environment for this intriguing production of The Great Gatsby, which offers an immersive experience that doesn’t depend on technology.
Limited in number to 40 patrons, the audience is invited to dress in the period of the play. On arrival each is offered a complimentary glass of champagne before being ushered into a series of rooms, spread over the three storeys of the mansion, where they become voyeurs to the interactions of the actors.
For this clever adaptation of the familiar F. Scott Fitzgerald story, the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby is played by recent WAAPA graduate Jay Peardon. Tall and handsome, Peardon has a striking presence and confident air of sophistication which makes him perfect casting for this role.
Ryan Hodson plays Nick Carroway, the naïve young visitor from Minnesota whose unconventional friendship with Gatsby forms the nucleus of the story. Hodson, who as Carroway also narrates the story, manages to achieve an appealing balance between naivety and curiosity for his character as he observes the decadent behaviour of the hangers-on with whom Gatsby surrounds himself, as he too becomes inexorably drawn into their decadent shenanigans.
Jessica Redmayne is also charismatic as Carraway’s mysterious cousin Daisy Buchanan, who’s in love with Gatsby but married to the controlling and immensely wealthy Tom Buchanan, played with louche charm by Joshua Ralph McElroy
Among the coterie of friends who surround Gatsby, Hannah Raven is a stand-out as the sophisticated 1920’s new woman and competitive golfer Jordan Baker. Alicia Rose Quinn is also memorable as Tom Buchanan’s lover and flamboyant burlesque performer, Myrtle Wilson, who enlivens one of the parties with a spectacular strip routine performed in front of a giant mirror.
Various other characters, including entertainers at the parties, are performed with panache by Adam Di Martino, Kristina McNamara, Cody Ross and Sebastien Nelson.
What separates this production from theatre restaurant concepts is that the actors take their roles seriously so that it is possible to get caught up in the story. All maintain admiral concentration, despite the close proximity of the audience, only occasionally interacting with the audience as a fellow guest at one of the parties, or when gently requesting someone to vacate one of the impressive velvet lounges or antique furniture props they may have inadvertently occupied when it is needed as part of the performance. Otherwise audience participation is minimal and discreet.
Production values are excellent, as is the direction and the performances, making The Great Gatsby highly recommended for anyone interested in experiencing a unique, unusual and highly enjoyable theatrical experience.
The Great Gatsby
Wonderland Bar, 24 Bayswater Road, Potts Point (Sydney)
Performance: Sunday 20 February 2022
Season continues to 26 June 2022
Information and Bookings: www.explorehidden.com
Image: Jay Peardon and Ryan Hodson feature in The Great Gatsby – photo by Aaron Lyon
Review: Bill Stephens OAM