The Great Gatsby enjoys a resurgence on stage and screen
F Scott Fitzgerald's novel is being adapted by both Baz Luhrmann and Northern Ballet
Rich beyond measure yet lacking the one thing he truly loves, Jay Gatsby has been one of American literature’s most fascinating characters for over 70 years. Kelly Apter looks at two new adaptations bringing The Great Gatsby to stage and screen
Not for nothing is F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel deemed one of the greatest books of all time. With descriptive text that often borders on the poetic, The Great Gatsby is a story to savour, not devour. At just over 160 pages, however, it’s as much about what Fitzgerald doesn’t say as what he does.
Perhaps that’s why adaptations have so far failed to capture the true essence of the novel. Four film versions have tried to reach Fitzgerald’s emotional and socio-political depths, with limited success. But hopes are high that Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming epic will do the book justice.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the eponymous millionaire and Tobey Maguire as main protagonist Nick Carraway, Luhrmann has pulled out all the stops to create the hedonistic, savagely elitist atmosphere Fitzgerald depicts. Set on Long Island, in New York State, the tale – at it’s most superficial level – captures the lifestyles of the rich and famous during the roaring twenties. Yet beneath that lies a tragedy of unrequited love, desperate yearning, lies, deceit and a desire to hang on to the past.
Luhrmann has Fitzgerald’s text to convey the novel’s emotional intent, but David Nixon, choreographer with Leeds-based company Northern Ballet, has had to find other ways to communicate the sense of love, loss and longing. According to him, in some ways, it was easier to demonstrate it through dance.
‘It’s not the book on stage,’ says Nixon. ‘It’s an essence of the book and the times it’s set in. I was inspired by the novel and Fitzgerald’s words, and then tried to translate that into movement. And on certain things, I can actually show more of what’s in those words through movement.’
In particular, Nixon has fleshed out the love affair between Gatsby and Daisy, and tragic victim characters, Myrtle and George Wilson – both of which Fitzgerald devotes minimal words to.
‘Whereas we’ve shed some things in the book, we’ve gained others,’ explains Nixon. ‘For instance it wouldn’t work if I didn’t have duets between Gatsby and Daisy, so we actually get more of what’s going on between them. And I think Myrtle and Wilson are very interesting, so I’ve created much more for them – they’re quite powerful characters in my version.’
Almost nine decades after Fitzgerald’s novel first hit the book stands, the fascination with his creation is as strong as ever. What is it about the story and characters that still grabs people, so many years on?
‘I think it echoes the times we’re living in now,’ says Nixon. ‘It’s about corruption, which we have as much today as ever. But also, these are real people. We may think that people living in the 1920s behaved like that and we don’t anymore, but we do. We still have people who think they can have somebody as a mistress, but they’re not good enough to marry – and people are still in relationships where the love is unrequited or unequal.’
Northern Ballet: The Great Gatsby, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Thu 21–Sat 23 Mar. Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is on general release from Fri 17 May.