Jay Gatsby is in town --- at the Spier Estate outside Stellenbosch, to be precise.
Expect “late-night foxtrots, moonshine in teapots, pearls and flappers, bootleggers and millionaires”, states the invitation.
The Great Gatsby (1925), staged on the lawns of the Spier wine estate, is a theatrical adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel by Peter Joucla of Wilton’s Music Hall, London, the last surviving grand music hall in the world.
The copyright on the novel expired in January last year, triggering a spree of adaptations. London had three versions last year, including Gatz, a six-hour production that contains every word in the novel.
During his lifetime, Fitzgerald knew the worth of his work but it was never a commercial success. It sold fewer than 25 000 copies; today it sells 300 000 a year.
Those who haven’t read it might recall Paramount’s heavy-handed, saccharine film from 1974 (Robert Redford played Gatsby; Mia Farrow, Daisy) with the men permanently covered in big beads of perspiration and the women’s eyes flashing like rhinestones in every shot.
There is a moment in the movie when a squealing Broadway troupe rushes into one of Gatsby’s lavish nouveau-riche parties. Perhaps it was this kind of interaction that Joucla aimed to achieve.
The audience are invited to dress up in their best 1920s gear, but beware this is an outdoor event and even summer nights can chill down. Before the show there is a themed dinner and plenty of wine.
At the launch party, which was held in Cape Town, in an imaginative recreation of a Prohibition-era speakeasy, the Signature range of Spier wines were matched to the characters in the book: Nick Carraway and chardonnay — independent, shapely, charismatic, adores fresh fish, enjoy while reading with the sun on one’s back; Daisy Buchanan and merlot — bold, laid-back, comfortable, classic crowd-pleaser; Gatsby and cabernet sauvignon — complex, majestic, lovable around a braai with lots of friends.
Shortly before the production commences, the young South African cast do rush in among the patrons. At interval and after the show, you have the opportunity to do the charleston with them too.
Spier is a luxury estate that does worthy community work and stages some serious artistic interventions. It makes business sense for the hotel to have this kind of entertainment for its guests. But that is the limitation of the experience — a good excuse for a party.
On the opening night fireflies (actually bioluminescent beetles) came out and danced delightfully above the heads of the audience. But the cast, across the board, was middling, with the exception of Jill Liebenberg’s brief cameos.
The production is spiced with songs, such as Ain’t We Got Fun, with its memorable lyric: “The rich get rich and the poor get children.” One relies on Fitzgerald’s wonderful prose to sustain the evening: “I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties, there isn’t any privacy” — and the dancing, and the wine.
It is unsurprising the dismal, ashen world of the garage proprietor George Wilson, watched over by the billboard eyes of Dr TJ Eckleburg, is hardly realised on stage in this pale adaptation that falls far short of the novel.
Art instructs us about life. Without Nick, the laconic narrator of the novel, making moral sense of it all, this production cannot bring us to that point of critique or self-awareness, or to how Fitzgerald understood the careless rich and the moral bankruptcy of the elite.
Until December 31. Book through Computicket