LONDON — One afternoon in September, 9 solid members of “The Nice Gatsby,” an immersive theater present staged like a celebration at Jay Gatsby’s mansion, have been sweatily dancing the Charleston in a London venue.
There ought to have been 10 of them within the rehearsal, however one actor, M.J. Lee, was serving because the present’s impromptu choreographer. The dancer who normally does that was caught at dwelling, ready for the results of a coronavirus check.
Lee didn’t appear bothered by the duty. “That’s nice!” she saved shouting at James Lawrence, an actor taking part in Nick Carraway, the present’s narrator, as he struggled with the steps.
Earlier than lockdown, the present was usually described as being as a lot a celebration as a play. Viewers members got here wearing fits or flapper clothes, and stood ingesting in a grand room of a London townhouse, embellished within the fashion of a 1920s bar. Throughout the present, the actors roamed among the many viewers whereas performing scenes, usually speaking immediately with attendees to deliver them into the motion.
The solid would additionally take a handful of fortunate viewers members off to different rooms within the townhouse — Gatsby’s boudoir, for example — to participate briefly, interactive scenes. (Typically viewers members received a bit too shut. In 2018, the police have been referred to as after actors complained of being sexually assaulted by viewers members.)
The entire foundation of the present needed to change due to coronavirus, mentioned Katy Eynon, its common supervisor, as she watched the rehearsal. “It’s a disgrace,” she mentioned. “The liberty to maneuver among the many viewers was one thing we used to play with and now we’re barely restricted to a extra conventional theater setup,” she added.
Earlier than lockdown, she mentioned, the Charleston had been staged as a dance lesson for the 250-strong viewers, with everybody inspired to affix in. Now, it could merely contain the actors dancing, and there would solely be 70 spectators, all carrying masks and sitting in chairs, spaced out to take care of social distancing.
Some viewers members would nonetheless be taken off to different rooms, Eynon added, however their experiences can be completely different. Within the boudoir, for example, Gatsby used to throw the contents of his wardrobe over attendees as he looked for excellent celebration outfit. However so many individuals touching the identical objects now carried a threat, she added: Gatsby would now fireplace questions at viewers members about which outfit they appreciated.
“It’s nonetheless immersive theater,” Eynon mentioned, “simply much less interactive.”
On the rehearsal, on Sep. 22, all of the artistic adjustments for the present’s comeback had been agreed. However Eynon mentioned she was nonetheless feeling “just a little burdened” due to one other problem: the British authorities’s coronavirus guidelines, which have been altering frequently, at quick discover. Moments earlier than that day’s rehearsal, Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced that hospitality venues must shut at 10 p.m.
That wasn’t nice for “Gatsby,” Eynon mentioned, because it made a revenue by conserving its bar open after the present completed.
“We’ll see what adjustments tomorrow!” she added.
By early October, just a few weeks after the rehearsal, “The Nice Gatsby” had reopened. Round 7 p.m. the primary of the evening’s 70-odd visitors arrived on the townhouse within the Mayfair district, some in glittering clothes accessorized with blue surgical masks.
Eynon, standing exterior, mentioned was relieved the present was lastly up and working. The brand new security measures have been all in place, Eynon added. In addition to temperature checks on the door, there was an air filtration system whirring away inside, cleansing the air each six minutes, she defined, and every room can be handled with ultraviolet gentle to kill germs between performances.
In interviews with eight viewers members as they arrived, just one spoke of issues in regards to the coronavirus. “I’m nervous about being inside,” mentioned Michael Jing, a 24-year-old pupil, attending along with his girlfriend. “However I feel I’ll haven’t any extra likelihood to go to the theater in future, so I need to attempt.”
Contained in the glamorous essential room, which featured a fountain effervescent away and many gold Artwork Deco ornament, viewers members have been guided to their tables the place they ordered drinks from masked waiters.
At first, ideas of the pandemic have been arduous to flee. Rosy Rosenthal (Hugh Stubbins) kicked off the present by standing on the bar and declaring a really un-Gatsby algorithm, chief amongst them that attendees mustn’t ever go away their seats until a solid member invited them to.
“Get these masks on, let’s get this celebration swinging,” he mentioned to complete.
However as soon as that was out of the way in which, the adjustments to the present have been unobtrusive. When viewers members have been taken away to observe the immersive scenes, the characters gave them refined reminders to sanitize their palms. “Let’s clean up,” mentioned Nick Carraway. “It’s New York Metropolis, you by no means know who’s touched what,” he added.
Ruth Turner, 30, a civil servant, mentioned she felt jealous watching folks go away the principle room to go off to the key places. “Usually in immersive theater, you stroll round the place you need,” she mentioned. Being made to sit down in a single place felt like “watching a play in a bar,” she added.
Maia Honan, 52, was extra enthusiastic. “The entire expertise is simply so particular,” she mentioned, including that she’d been invited to participate within the motion by taking part in the a part of certainly one of Gatsby’s maids and establishing a tea service for him. “We’ve all been in lockdown so lengthy, the whole lot’s so heightened.”
She nervous the play might need to shut once more, she added, given the federal government seemed prone to announce new restrictions, however hoped that wouldn’t occur. The entire of England is topic to a 10 p.m. hospitality curfew, and, on Saturday, a ban on households mixing indoors got here in for London, although theaters can stay open.
At 9:55 p.m., a couple of minutes earlier than the curfew, “The Nice Gatsby” completed to cheers. Nick Carraway stood on the bar and briefly dropped out of character to handle everybody. “An enormous welcome again to only getting collectively and doing issues once more,” he mentioned.
“That is usually the time we are saying we’ll get out of costume and be a part of you for a drink,” he added. “However that’s unlawful. So have a good looking, lovely night.”