Theatre, money and privilege
Theatre, money and privilege
The Great Gatsby
New Theatre, Newtown, Sydney
July 15-September 2
REVIEW BY BRENDAN DOYLE
The Sydney theatre establishment functions as a sort of club. If you're a member, you get the public funding. Hence Barrie Kosky gets to put on his dreadful Oedipus at The Wharf and David Williamson's The Great Man moves from the Opera House to Glen Street for a second season.
Outside of the Sydney Theatre Company and Belvoir Street, however, life is tough. Non-mainstream theatre, such as the New Theatre, is hardly funded at all, or has to go begging for corporate sponsorship, which even our prime minister had to admit isn't easily forthcoming.
Many worthwhile plays never get produced. There's a lack of affordable venues. Who can risk $2000 a week to rent the Downstairs at Belvoir Street? Many alternative venues have closed.
Mainstream newspapers give theatre less and less space, often totally ignoring more interesting work by new, young groups.
Meanwhile, in spite of the National Playwrights Centre and its bevy of "dramaturgs", where are the new Australian plays being produced?
There is still a colonial mentality. More money goes back to Britain in royalties than gets paid to Australian playwrights. Currently in Sydney you can see plays by Harold Pinter, Noel Coward, Alan Bennett, Brian Friel and Alan Ayckbourn, but precious little new Australian work.
People are staying away from theatre in droves. The subsidised companies keep putting their ticket prices up, making it more and more an elite experience.
But it's not only the cost, it's the content. Theatre has lost its social function, and is often no more than a pale imitation of television.
Where is the clever, biting satire, the cruel send-ups, the stinging criticism of social class and privilege that, since ancient times, brought people into the theatre?
Within this overall sorry picture, the New Theatre has, since 1932, maintained a fine tradition of alternative theatre of high quality. And they do it, amazingly, without public funding. With The Great Gatsby, adapted for stage from F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel by Sydney playwright Barry Lowe, the New has again scored a winner.
This is a likeable production, with an energetic, talented young cast of 17 — where else can so many actors get to do a show? — well handled by veteran director Frank McNamara. I haven't read the novel, but I'm told this production covers pretty much the same territory: the mindless pursuit of money and power and the careless disregard for social inequality in America in the twenties.
The story is told through narrator Nick Carroway, a working-class boy trying to make good, and his upwardly mobile hero Gatsby, who has made the money, but without ever really being accepted by his social betters. There's also romance, the Charleston and plenty of laughs.
See this show to restore your faith in theatre. And it won't cost you an arm and a leg.