Gate Theatre to take the seats out for an immersive ‘Great Gatsby’

New director Selina Cartmell announces first programme, after Michael Colgan exits, stage left


The Gate Theatre has announced details of its first season since the departure of its long-standing director Michael Colgan, who retired last month. On Wednesday, new director Selina Cartmell launched her inaugural programme, which runs for 12 months from July with a mix of adaptations, classics and work new to the Irish stage.

Cartmell, a multiple award-winning director and producer, said it was clear how “loved and cherished” the Gate was and paid tribute to her “hugely successful” predecessor. But she also made clear that audiences would see significant change in the year ahead. “The spine of the Gate’s repertoire will remain the European, American and Irish canon,” she said. “However, I want the Gate to reimagine, redefine and reinvent these timeless stories, to make them seem urgent, relevant and alive to us all today.”

In what could be seen as a symbolic move, all the seats will be removed from the theatre auditorium this summer, with backstage areas and spaces also made accessible to the public for the first time, for Alexander Wright’s “free-form, immersive” version of F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, with audiences encouraged to dress in 1920s styles as they move around a recreation of the Gatsby mansion, “with all its decadent opulence and atmosphere”.

Theatre festival

The Gate’s contribution to this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival in the autumn will be a production of Tribes, Nina Raine’s comedy drama about family dysfunction, which transposes the setting from suburban Hampstead to south county Dublin.

Other highlights include a Christmas production of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Red Shoes in a new contemporary Dublin version by Nancy Harris, and, in 2018, John Osborne’s groundbreaking (but little seen in Ireland) 1950s Angry Young Man drama Look Back in Anger.

Cartmell will direct Steven Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning Assassins, which lays bare the lives of nine people who assassinated – or attempted to assassinate – a president of the United States. Singer Camille O’Sullivan will perform in a version of Shakespeare’s tragic poem The Rape of Lucrece. The season concludes next summer with a new stage version by Roddy Doyle of his classic 1990 comic novel, The Snapper.

After announcing the details of the season, which has the theme of “The Outsider”, Cartmell told The Irish Times that her intention was “to look back on the past in order to reimagine the future”.

Conservative audience

A recent report commissioned by the Gate from consultants Bonnar Keenlyside found that the 89-year-old theatre was overly reliant on a loyal but conservative audience, and that dwindling State subsidy and declining box office meant the “current model is stretched to the point of unsustainability”. It warned that, “The apparent conservatism of its core audience means that any experimentation outside of a particular taste may have negative financial results.”

Cartmell acknowledged the difficulties which the report laid out, but expressed optimism that her vision of the Gate would appeal both to new and existing audiences.“Obviously it’s a challenge, in terms of responding to that loyal audience,” she said. “But, as well as reaching out and making the audience more diverse, I think the audience are up for more artistic bravery. If you just give people pizza, then all they’ll want is pizza.” She said she was committed to keeping the standards of acting and quality of design as high as before. “But we’ll also keep pushing boundaries as far as they’ll go.”