Gatz: Eight-hour Gatsby play opens in London

Promotional image for Gatz The show was first performed in 2005

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The full text of F Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby has been performed in London, in an eight-hour show at the Noel Coward Theatre.

Critics attended the press preview of Gatz on Wednesday, with the audience taking their seats at 14:30 BST.

The play has transferred from New York, where it was called "a work of singular imagination and intelligence" by the New York Times.

It runs for a month, as part of the London 2012 Festival.

Some of the famous faces attending Wednesday's performance included Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch, actress Juliet Stevenson and playwright Sir David Hare and his wife, designer Nicole Farhi.

Other audience members included 83-year-old Patricia Macnaughton.

"Because I'm an old lady I've brought a cushion," she told the BBC.

Sophie Kisilevsky, 20, added: "I'm quite glad there are a few breaks because it's so long and I've heard it's quite intense."

The first interval arrived at 16:30 BST. BBC arts correspondent Rebecca Jones said "not everyone stayed awake" for the first act, which stretched through to chapter three of the book.

"One woman I saw had slipped off her shoes," she said.

"A man was nibbling dried mangoes to keep his energy levels up. Another audience member said he wasn't enthralled... yet."

'Marathon'

Published in 1925, The Great Gatsby has long been regarded as a US literary classic.

The view after eight hours

10:45pm Scott Shepherd, a comedy actor playing Nick Carraway sat alone on the stage and recited the final lines from the Great Gatsby.

There was silence and then a standing ovation with one wag shouting "encore". And now it's all over I can't help wondering whether Gatz is really great theatre.

It's undoubtedly an artistic event but that's as much to do with the length of the production as what you actually see on stage.

Whatever else though, it is a reminder of what F Scott Fitzgerald described as the "inexhaustible variety of life".

Set in New York, the story is about the dreams and delusions of the nouveau riche in the 1920s.

The idea to turn the novel into a stage play came from John Collins, of experimental theatre group Elevator Repair Service.

He told the Guardian the aim was to make a show using "non-dramatic source material. To take something from one medium and make it work in our medium."

The production begins in an office that has clearly seen better days. As an unenthusiastic employee waits for his computer to boot up, he discovers a battered copy of Gatsby, and reads the opening line: "In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice..."

Over the course of the next eight hours (including three intervals), the character recites, and is seduced by, the text of the Jazz Age novel. Gradually, his work colleagues "become" characters in the novel, the text merging with real life.

Scott Shepherd, the actor who plays the narrator Nick Carraway, said he now knows the text of Gatsby off by heart.

His other cast-mates have likened the performance to a "marathon".

"They serve us Power Bars in chapter four, get a cigarette in chapter eight, and maybe if you're lucky a shot of whiskey," Jim Fletcher, who plays Jay Gatsby, told The Huffington Post during the play's New York run.

"[The show] becomes your day. It has a way of absorbing whatever your state is," Shepherd added.

London 2012 - One extraordinary year

London 2012 One extraordinary year graphic

"So when I get exhausted, it's like, 'ok that's what we're going to funnel'. The channelling of the book will then come through this exhaustion."

Gatz is one of three productions of Fitzgerald's novel due this year.

A musical adaption will open at the King's Head Theatre in Islington, north London in August.

Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann is also putting the finishing touches to a 3D film adaptation, starring British actress Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio, who takes the title role.

A trailer for the movie, which is scheduled for release at the end of the year, was released in May.

It is scored by anachronistic music from the likes of rappers Jay-Z and Kanye West, suggesting the movie will use a similarly scattergun approach to Luhrmann's updated version of Romeo and Juliet.

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