BBC Radio 4, 6-13 May 2012
First published in 1922, The Great Gatsby portrays the pleasurable
and the seamier sides of the jazz age - a world of parties and non-stop enjoyment that conceals deeper passions within.
Gaynor McFarlane's production vividly caught this spirit, especially during one of the party scenes when Tom Buchanan (Andrew
Buchan) tried to stop his girlfriend Myrtle Wilson (Susie Riddell) from maligning his wife. The jazz music in the
background grew more and more strident, while Nick Carraway's (Bryan Dick's) narration became edgy as he understood what the
outcome would be. The only way Tom could silence Myrtle was to break her nose: the other women at the party screamed
and helped Myrtle to the kitchen, while Nick observed in an aside that such mishaps were both inevitable and common
in the small, self-contained world of New York society, in which everyone knew everyone else.
Thematically speaking, McFarlane's production emphasized the notion of transience:
the guests talked to one another at Gatsby's (Andrew Scott's) parties like ships that passed in the night,
exchanging pleasantries but actually saying nothing. Gatsby gave the appearance of affability, with his repeated greeting
of "old sport," but to Nick he always seemed to "shift out of focus," as if reluctant to let anyone get close to him.
Jordan Baker (Melody Grove) told Nick some of the truth about Gatsby's past, but then stopped, expressing the wish to
go riding instead. The sound-effects - the whirr of a car engine, the clip-clop of horses' hooves - reinforced the idea of
instability: emotionally and physically the characters seemed apprehensive of staying in one place.
Nick's narration reflected this notion of uncertainty: sometimes he was content just
to describe the scene around him, on other occasions he tried and failed to make sense of the characters' motives. Although
attracted to Jordan, he still could not quite fathom her behaviour: why she should have told him about Gatsby's past love-affair
with Daisy (Pippa Bennett-Warner), when hitherto she remained tight-lipped about it. His confusion was reflected in his incredulous
voice as he tried to make sense of what happened. Perhaps Jordan - like Gatsby and Daisy - was looking for a source of
stability, and thought that Nick might provide it.
Robert Forrest's dramatization caught the sense of melancholy lurking at the heart
of this world of beautiful people. Things will only get worse in the second (and final) episode.