Theatre reviews: The Great Gatsby and Queen Coal

Northern Ballet's The Great Gatsby
Northern Ballet's The Great Gatsby
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The Great Gatsby, Alhambra, Bradford, reviewed by Yvette Huddleston ****

Northern Ballet’s sumptuous production is – quite simply – beautiful to behold. 
The simple but stunning set design creates the feeling of space and grandeur – clever repeated use is made of a set of huge arched windows – while allowing smooth transitions between scenes.

The costumes are glamorous, carefully tailored to add to the grace of the dancers’ movements and with a jazz age authenticity. So, there is plenty to delight the eye, but this is also a supremely intelligent adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s Great American Novel reflected in the thoughtful choreography that is at times joyful and exuberant – there are plenty of enjoyably raucous, drunken party scenes – and at others almost unbearably poignant. 

The pas de deux between melancholy millionaire Gatsby and his former love Daisy in which the couple attempt to recapture the carefree passion of their youth is both sensual and moving. 
While the production doesn’t hold back from putting on the glitz, neither does it ignore the darker elements of the novel – Gatsby’s possibly criminal business activities, the transgressive relationships, the deceit and cruelty, the gap between rich and poor. 

The acting, too, is superb. Tobias Batley as Gatsby gives a suitably restrained performance – not easy in a dance context – and perfectly captures the character’s unease with himself as well as his longing for Daisy and a simpler past.

• To November 15.

Queen Coal, Sheffield Studio, reviewed by Nick Ahad ****

One of the things I most admire about the people who run Sheffield Theatres is their creative ambition. That and the fact that they don’t appear to let it ever be compromised.Take Queen Coal, for example. Bryony Lavery’s beautiful play appears to halve the audience capacity of the studio theatre – which must have made the accountants shudder.

Bravo to those who insisted on a perspex floor under which the actors can perform and armchairs for the audience to sit in. It all serves to strengthen Lavery’s coruscating script which is done great justice by three powerful actors. At times the message becomes the master and the style of the storytelling is too polemic, but when this production is all about the heart and the relationships, it is deeply moving. It is shortly after the death of Thatcher and brother and sister Maggie and Ian tend scars they still bear from the miners’ strike.

As Maggie prepares to burn an effigy of her namesake, she awaits the return to Sheffield of Justine, Ian’s ex-wife, who brings a history of pain with her. As Maggie, Kate Anthony is a seething cauldron of resentment. David Hounslow, as Ian, doesn’t quite capture the burning anger of years of emasculation, but there is a deep rooted sorrow of a man whose purpose was stripped away, at the heart of his performance. This important play explains why the scars of the strike are still sore and explores why the divisions still stand today. An admirable, important production.

• To November 22.