I feel a million dollars in these dresses - Great Gatsby style at the Gate

Actors talk about 1920s costumes in the current F Scott Fitzgerald production which has audiences dressing up too

“The Great Gatsby” at The Gate Theatre in Dublin, gatetheatre.iePhotograph: Patrick Bolger

“The Great Gatsby” at The Gate Theatre in Dublin, gatetheatre.iePhotograph: Patrick Bolger

 

“In his blue gardens, men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars” – F Scott Fitzgerald

“This is an exceptional cast and I am in awe of them. They can sing, they can dance, they can make you laugh and they can make you cry. If these young actors are the future of Irish theatre, it has a great future”. So says Peter O Brien whose beautiful costumes for the Gate’s production of the stage adaptation of Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece The Great Gatsby play their parts in making this play such a success in Dublin. The physicality of the production and immersion and engagement with the audience makes its own demands on the players and what they wear. We spoke to the four “Gatsby girls” and asked them about their characters, their clothes and their audiences.

Charlene McKenna (Daisy Buchanan)

Daisy (Charlene McKenna): “Dress in bois de rose satin-backed crepe with a layer of ivory tulle and a panel of embroidery found in Soho with pieces cut out and reapplied on to the dress. This had to be painstakingly covered in tulle to protect the dress from catching on the claws of the rhinestones, ” says Peter O’Brien.Photograph: Agata Stoinska
Daisy (Charlene McKenna): “Dress in bois de rose satin-backed crepe with a layer of ivory tulle and a panel of embroidery found in Soho with pieces cut out and reapplied on to the dress. This had to be painstakingly covered in tulle to protect the dress from catching on the claws of the rhinestones, ” says Peter O’Brien.Photograph: Agata Stoinska

“I feel a million dollars in these dresses and when Peter came with the dusty pink satin silk fabric with the beading and crystals, it looked so beautiful. Daisy has nothing to prove, her status and position in society are completely validated, so it is about a shimmering rather than an in- your- face style. You really become Daisy and that is so important because on a one-to-one with the audience I believe myself entirely. Costume is incredibly important – it can make you sit differently, walk differently, hold yourself differently so it is the coupling of the clothes with the physicality of the characters that makes you move in a certain way dictated by the period. You have to love the Irish audience and the way they dress up. Over 80 per cent do every night, so the word is on the street now and those who don’t are the ones that stand out.”

Aoibheann McCann (Myrtle Wilson)

Myrtle (Aoibheann McCann): “Black evening dress in tulle with handkerchief points – sequinned coat with Poiret-style roses in matt sequins all over,” says Peter O’Brien.Photograph: Agata Stoinska
Myrtle (Aoibheann McCann): “Black evening dress in tulle with handkerchief points – sequinned coat with Poiret-style roses in matt sequins all over,” says Peter O’Brien.Photograph: Agata Stoinska

“Because Myrtle is working class, it gives her a huge amount of freedom to express certain things. Tom makes her feel beautiful, but never gives her what she wants and she has been on the ash heap for at least 10 years which is a dark, sad place. It is wonderful to have a dress tailored for you. Cut on the bias, it is like dancing with wings and encourages you to dance and is designed that way. Myrtle works her pelvis and is a lot more physical and unconstrained and wants to be sexy and even the peplum on her dress moves, so when I put on the beads, the lipstick on a chain and do the hair, I do genuinely feel that I am Myrtle and ready. With the second dress I add extra beads, bracelets and earrings so it feels sumptuous and I feel queen of the boudoir and am in my element then. I wear the sequin coat off the shoulder and a prop like that helps any actor with the storytelling. You know what? There are those in the audience who really engage and want to be there and want to play and a headband is often the way in – we have people in long 70s summer dresses and with headbands, they are in Gatsby’s mansion!”

Kate Gilmore (Kitty)

Kitty (Kate Gilmore): “Vert anise (snot green) silk crepe dress with black Chantilly lace. The jet-beaded fringe around the waist is from an original piece of jet from the 20s found in Kentish Town,” says Peter O’Brien.Photograph: Agata Stoinska
Kitty (Kate Gilmore): “Vert anise (snot green) silk crepe dress with black Chantilly lace. The jet-beaded fringe around the waist is from an original piece of jet from the 20s found in Kentish Town,” says Peter O’Brien.Photograph: Agata Stoinska

“I find it fascinating that Myrtle and her sister Kitty are in dark colours with loads of beads and excess materials while the others are in pale colours, silk and chiffons – their difference in status depicted in the clothes. It feels incredible to wear the dress because the 20s would not be an era I would normally go to – I would prefer the 40s and 50s with the nipped-in waists. I felt wearing it that I had gone back in time, particularly with the underwear. There is so much material like bloomers and belts to hold up the stockings – it makes you feel very feminine. We have all been surprised with the efforts made by the audiences. We are not very showy as a nation, so it surprising that the audience has really gone for it, dressing up and getting involved. Friday and Saturday nights are generally a bit rowdier when most don’t have work the next day.”

Rachel O’Byrne (Jordan Baker)

Jordan (Rachel O’Byrne): “Heavy matte silk dress (fabric found by my beady eye in Soho). The chiffon blouse has an Argyle pattern to give enough of a hint of sportiness without it looking like a chorus girl from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’,” says Peter O’Brien.Photograph: Agata Stoinska
Jordan (Rachel O’Byrne): “Heavy matte silk dress (fabric found by my beady eye in Soho). The chiffon blouse has an Argyle pattern to give enough of a hint of sportiness without it looking like a chorus girl from ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’,” says Peter O’Brien.Photograph: Agata Stoinska

“Jordan is the original socialite and Daisy’s best friend and a golfer. Members of the audience often ask for golfing tips! What strikes me about Jordan is her isolation and though everybody wants to be seen with her, nobody really knows her and she only shows her vulnerability with Tom. I wear one dress in ivory silk for the whole show and the first time I put it on, the weight of it stood out. It makes you feel glamorous and I love the movement of the pleats and the colour makes me feel I stand out in the crowd (though I have to be careful of glasses of red wine!) It was a gear change in knowing who Jordan was, a hook on to her character’s taste and feeling for luxury and simplicity. She has economy of taste – wears pearl earrings, a necklace and a sapphire ring – but chooses expensive things. I play with scarves all the time which gives you a sense of the flappers, they were so aesthetically focused and playful. The audience make real efforts (in their dress) and engages so well that you have a sense that people are with you, so part of the job has already been done.”

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