Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview

Linnie Reedman: Gatsby

By | Published on Thursday 31 March 2016


Fans of musical theatre, jazz and F Scott Fitzgerald are in for a treat this month, as renowned theatre producers Ruby In The Dust head back to the venue they staged their first ever production at – the Union Theatre – with their musical adaptation, ‘Gatsby’.
To find out more I spoke to company founder Linnie Reedman, who wrote the book for the show, and also directs.

CM: Tell us a bit about the story of ‘Gatsby’ – how faithful is this adaptation to the story and themes of the book?
LR: The book is so iconic and resonates at different levels for its readers. Even those who haven’t read the book have images and ideas about ‘The Great Gatsby’ through media images, speakeasy bars and of course the wonderful fashion and jazz music. For that reason I wanted to look at the story in a different light. A lot of people forget that the story is actually very dark and tragic. It centres around many spoilt and careless people. However, ironically, the one true character is Jay Gatsby and his mentor Meyer Wolfshiem. The bootlegger and gangster character of Wolfshiem stands by Gatsby, and indeed, rescued him from poverty. So this version of ‘Gatsby’ looks at events through Wolfshiem’s eyes instead of the narrator Nick Carraway. Many of the scenes have consequentially been set in a speakeasy bar.

CM: What made you decide this tale would work as a musical?
LR: Scott Fitzgerald was the ‘King’ of The Jazz Age. He used to frequent speakeasy bars and enjoy the exciting new Jazz music bands that were trending in New York during the twenties. He makes many references to popular tunes of the time in his novels, and uses quite descriptive, informed details of the instruments used. The story thus lends itself to inserting music into scenes where there would actually be a band present. Some of the characters use song when words are no longer sufficient to convey their emotions.

CM: What made you want to bring this particular story to the stage?
LR: When I first adapted the story there were no adaptations being performed in Europe due to copyright issues. I am constantly looking for classics to bring to the stage in order to show them in a new light. However, before the ink had dried on the pages of the first draft I became aware of many other productions. This fuelled the desire to create something different. This particular story of lost dreams seems to strike a chord. It is always tempting to try to convey the spirit of a beautiful tragic story to the stage.

CM: It’s a few years since you first staged the show, isn’t it? What made you want to bring it back now?
LR: After the show’s first outing it was picked up by an American producer and further workshopped with an eye on it being a West End show. However, for several reasons the west end transfer never happened. There was a request for an extension of the license. But I wanted to change my adaptation to its present format and so decided to present it in a brand new interpretation. I am very excited by it now being at The Union Theatre in a more gritty and immediate setting.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your cast?
LR: We have a very talented and exciting eclectic cast. It took several weeks to cast. I am very particular about my casting and have a keen eye for talent. I won’t cast a character until I have found the right person for that role. My Jay Gatsby, Nicholas Fagerberg, was an immediate “yes!”. I usually struggle to cast the title role but this time I knew I had found Gatsby the minute Nicholas walked into the casting room. He is a genuine American and has not been in London long. Aside from being an incredible actor he bears a strong resemblance to Scott Fitzgerald. Many of the cast are also talented musicians, playing instruments ranging from saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, guitar and violin. Kate Marlais who plays Jordan Baker joined the cast immediately after finishing a year long stint on ‘War Horse’. She has appeared in two previous Ruby In The Dust productions, and is a talented violinist, actor and singer. Our lovely Samantha Clarke who plays the showgirl Lucille played Bonnie Parker in Ruby’s ‘Bonnie and Clyde’. All the cast sing exceptionally well and many are gifted dancers. Ferne McCann is making her theatrical debut after stints on television in ‘Towie’ and ‘I’m a Celebrity get me out of here’. She is soon to appear on ‘Celebrity Juice’. We pride ourselves on discovering new talent in many of our shows.

CM: This is an anniversary production at the venue Ruby In The Dust started out at. What would you say have been your most memorable moments from the last decade?
LR: Some of our most memorable moments came from the discovery of new talent. We plucked Olivia Vinall from drama school where she was still a student to play Juliet in “Romeo and Julet”. She was hailed a star by the Times and went on to become the darling of the National Theatre. Jack Fox and Daisy Bevan both made their professional debut with Ruby in the Dust in ‘Dorian Gray’. The latter production also proved to be one of our most memorable in an early showing at The Cafe Royal before it was renovated. We staged an atmospheric evening in the Domino Room where Oscar Wilde himself had read out his works. The candles guttered almost as if he had walked in. Everyone felt it – it was electric. We also staged a version of Reza de Wet’s ‘Miracle’ in a crypt starring Susannah Yorke. Unbeknownst to us she was quite ill and had not long to live but she was a real trouper and braved the icy conditions with a dedication and commitment that was astonishing. She even donned an angels costume and posed for publicity photos in the pouring rain. Her radiant smile on stage lit up the crypt. Not to be forgotten.

CM: How did it come together in the first place? What made you want to create your own company?
LR: I spent two decades working as an actress after graduating from Drama School. In between jobs I coached and directed theatre productions for various companies. I also started adapting stories for the stage for use in these companies. I received such positive feedback that I decided to try these productions on the fringe circuit. In order to do that I was advised to set up my own theatre production company. I then joined The Young Vic Genesis group and was offered invaluable access to their workshop and development programmes. When I met collaborator and composer Joe Evans we decided to set up Ruby In The Dust Theatre and feature original music and sound in our productions. We look to present classical or well-known stories with a twist.

CM: What plans do you have for the future?
LR: Later this year we plan to present ‘After Romeo and Juliet’ at The Arts Theatre. It will be set in a political climate featuring the music of Rodriguez. I am also writing a political musical drama set in Paris just before the 2nd World War, centring around the true story of a young Polish Jewish boy who is caught up in a relationship with a beautiful ambitious Nazi diplomat.

‘Gatsby’ is on at the Union Theatre from 6-30 Apr. See the venue website here for more info and to book. 

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photo: Roy Tan

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