Feathers dance, heels clip and pearls swish. The notes of the piano and saxophone caress each other through the air, cocktails are poured into dainty flutes and puffs of smoke elegantly ooze from cigarellos momentarily etching themselves against the night sky. It’s 1922 and we’re in West Egg.
Well, we are in the Novel Diner’s version of it. After a frustrating 40 minute delay, courtesy of a Fairways taxi, my friend Olivia and I made it to the Tea House Theatre in Vauxhall last Friday. While the majority of the populace watched the Queen and her oversized briefs plummet into the Olympic opening ceremony, we travelled back into an era of unapologetic hedonism, of opulence, decadence – to the era of F Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby.
Set up by Claire Coutinho and Mina Holland, The Novel Diner is a pop-up restaurant which brings works of fiction to life. Past events include Proust, The Secret History, To the Lighthouse and on the 18th September the team will honour Bret Easton Ellis and transform Shoreditch House into the world of American Psycho Patrick Bateman.
Back to Vauxhall. Welcomed by the American drawl of two beautiful clip-boarded women (wearing black-tassled mini-dresses effortlessly) we glided into the bygone world of post-war America. Oak tables were scattered with diamonds, cherry infused Bloody Myrtles lingered on the heavily painted lips of women and a white-jumpered, badminton-holding Tom Buchanan strided through the heaving room.
A few minutes after meandering through to the bar, we sipped on our complimentary cocktails and perused our contemporaries. Ranging from early 20s to late 60s, the crowd were an apt reincarnation of Gatsby’s parties –
The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.
Women smiled enthusiastically, introduced themselves and vaguely listened to the introductions of others before retreating to the safety of their friendship groups. Strained smiles of young women peered territorially, like the eyes of T J Eckleburg, over the ivy laden tables, ensuring that fresh blood didn’t contaminate their Valley of Ashes.
Olivia and I were met with a frosty downward sneer as we placed ourselves in two, what we presumed to be empty, seats.
“Oh sorry, are these seats taken?”
“Well they were, but don’t worry.”
“We can move.”
“No really, it’s fine.”
So we stayed and attempted to make conversation, but, the short, clipped responses did not induce further communication. We cut our losses, refilled our flutes with Prosecco and to our relief were asked by the attractive clip-board ladies to join them on the dance floor – to learn the Charleston.
Their shoulders jiggled, their knees moved elastically and their heels chimed in perfect sync. My shoulders twitched, my knees strained and my heels bashed awkwardly. To my dismay Olivia picked it up all too easily and I resigned myself to bobbing on the spot, sadly coming to terms with my malco-ordination. Though not able to maintain rhythm or pace, I was immersed in the music, immersed in the crowd and drunk on the 1920’s atmosphere.
Why aren’t parties more like them? The hair, the dresses, the make-up, the dancing – it’s all so elegant and fun, gone are the fears of squeezing yourself into the respiratory-restricting body-con designs and gyrating against B.O ridden, tight-tshirted men. It’s a dignified affair.
My newfound curls bounced as the final chords of the piano rang out. Supper was served.
Turkey bewitched to a dark gold was both the focal point of the sumptuous buffet and the most pleasing to the pallet – the spiced marinade cut wonderfully through the unusually moist flesh. Hams, mustard and mayonnaise infused potatoes (Dijonnaise) and grapefruit and orange salads bordered the giant bird, and all were washed down with ample doses of camomile cocktails.
Tucking in to our culinary treats, the star of current show Gatz, Sam Shepherd, took to the microphone and gave us a taster of his performance of Nick Carraway. His voice was buttery, words melted into one another, rolling softly through the room. Hypnotic, it was only when the saxophone sounded, that I realised he’d finished.
Saturated with cocktails, we took to the floor again and tapped our heels in (relative) time with the music. Almost a century has passed since Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, but the world of Gatsby lives on, in this time warp, as fresh as ever.
Old chaps, we danced on.