Review Great Gatsby, Mayflower


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‘The Great Gatsby’ (Northern Ballet)
The Mayflower, Southampton

Elegant, Graceful, Effortless …

Three words that I must use to describe Northern Ballet’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ which runs at The Mayflower until this Saturday 18th.


They are not used lightly: to a ballet aficionado (and I am certainly not in that elite group) the technical content of this show would not go unnoticed and rightly so.


But as someone who wouldn’t know their pirouette from their poutenu I can only comment on the entertainment factor, a feeling which I probably share with a good percentage of the audience.


I am also only vaguely familiar with ‘The Great Gatsby’, F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel set in the decadent Long Island society world of the 1920s, a fascinating period of American history when the Great War was forgotten in favour of all night parties, powerful men, beautiful women and the bubble that was the American Dream. As hindsight tells us, the dream was short-lived but at the time the glamour and lifestyle was everything.


Immortalised on film in 1949, then in 1974 (Robert Redford and Mia Farrow) and dramatically reworked in 2013 with Leonardo de Caprio in the title role, the film version of the story is probably better known to a wide audience than the book.

The next step, the business of transferring the story to the stage and telling it in dance only, must have presented a few challenges. As with opera, unless you happen to speak Italian you might be forgiven for missing out on some of the nuances of the plot. For instance in an ensemble scene where there is obviously a party going on, it is not difficult to follow what is happening.


But some of the two- or three-handed scenes can be a bit trickier to interpret in the context of the storyline. So thank goodness that a handy synopsis of scenes takes up a full double page in the Gatsby printed programme.

‘The Great Gatsby’ is a romantic drama narrated by Great War veteran Nick Carraway and tells of self-made Jay Gatsby who is still infatuated by Daisy with whom he fell in love during the war, when they were both five years younger.

As well as love, friendship and fun, the story involves infidelity, corruption, mobsters and at least one death. No spoilers, but the very last scene before the curtain falls is worth waiting for, even if there is more to the original book than that ending.

But, as a ballet ‘The Great Gatsby’ becomes a visual feast, a delightful way of viewing the story through the medium of dance. Not a word is spoken, of course (as an actor I find this slightly unnerving) and the balletic movement doesn’t always help with the storytelling.

But to be honest, the plot is almost irrelevant. To listen to Sir Richard Rodney Bennett’s amazing musical score with its mix of film / jazz / Charleston / tango/ popular/ symphonic ingredients, played by a ‘proper’ orchestra in a ‘proper’ orchestra pit and then marry it to the beautiful but simple floaty sets, costumes and backdrops all lit with extraordinary moodiness and fantastic use of colour, is the perfect way to watch the stars of the show.


Those extraordinary dancers who seem to weigh no more than a bunch of feathers; who make no sound as they leap and glide around every inch of the Mayflower stage; whose core strength, flexibility and agility seem almost impossible for mere mortals, as they effortlessly act out their roles all the while.

An abiding memory for me is the scene on the streets of New York where passers by cross each other in chaotic but meticulously choreographed movements, moving at incredible speed in a blur of pointed legs (and always on the tips of their toes. How do they do that?).

The plot is largely unnecessary, a backdrop against which to appreciate the most mesmerising of dance moves. The combination of dance, lighting, costumes, staging and music must make this kind of ballet truly accessible to a wide range of age and taste.


The absence of empty seats in the auditorium proves that Northern Ballet’s artistic director David Nixon has got it right: this is not just a show for the ballet elite, for those who know their plié from their posé; this is a show for everyone and I urge everyone to go and see it before it moves on.

Runs (and glides gracefully) until Saturday 18th including matinée performances. Check it out by clicking on this link

David Cradduck

Images: Bill Cooper