Written for Total Theatre
If I love a book I devour it as quickly as possible. I’ve spent days reading when I should be eating, sleeping or working. I don’t think I’m alone in this; it’s the absolute absorption in such occurrences that appeals to us, to be able to turn our backs on this world and leap into another. In such circumstances eight hours seems paltry. Even so I could not have expected the extraordinary adventure that Elevator Repair Service’s uncut version of The Great Gatsby turns out to be.
Scott Shepherd is a white collar worker stuck in the tedious monotony that marks all dingy office environments. This one is particularly dank, with designer Louisa Thompson going out of her way to create a shabby counterpoint to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s glittering universe. Whilst waiting for his ancient computer to whir into life, Shepherd finds a thumbed copy of The Great Gatsby on his desk and begins to read. This action begins a transformation in both him and his co-workers, who gradually take on the roles in Fitzgerald’s book for a word-for-word retelling.
Elevator Repair Service cleverly set up and entwine two very separate worlds with subtle ease. Colleagues wonder what Shepherd is doing just as they are subconsciously syncing into the story; they pick up telephones on cue or interrupt our increasingly surprised narrator to speak for the characters that have possessed them. In the midst of all this Shepherd’s descriptive interludes slide into the dialogue as naturally as a bootlegger into 1920s high society. It’s sophisticated but ever so simple.
Even so I expect it to take me a while to sink into the rhythm of this performance, but from the off I am hooked. As the flash of a neighbour’s watch-face cheekily tells me the first section is almost up, I realise two hours have disappeared. After a discombobulating break in the outside world, I return to the darkened space and kick off my shoes, letting the warmth of Shepherd’s voice lull me back into a place of attentive meditation. How quickly the reality on stage has become mine. The childish nostalgia of being read to rushes over me. It’s been far too long since I allowed myself, or was offered, such a pleasure.