With the women in shift dresses, cut on the bias with dropped waists and the men in linen suits and correspondent shoes, cocktails are served as the pianist plays tunes that remind us of Joplin and Gershwin and of the wild days of prohibition, when old money was under threat and new money (sometimes legal, sometimes illegal) was finding its feet and its voice.
F Scott Fitzgerald's novel of love lost and not quite regained has been adapted as a musical by Linnie Reedman with music by Joe Evans for Ruby in the Dust (at the Kings Head Theatre until 1 September). The songs and accompanying music work wonderfully well with the costumes and just enough props on stage to evoke the style, and the sadness, of the shortlived freedom of the Twenties. JorDan Baker, professional golfer is played by Peta Cornish as a coquettishly sensual woman of the world, taking pleasure where she finds it, but not so tough that she isn't genuinely upset when Nick Carroway (Raphael Verrion, who sees through the facades) ends their affair, unable to stand the emptiness of washing away days with mint juleps and rides to New York.
At the centre of the play stand Tom Buchanan, wealthy, stupid and jealous and given a bullishness to match his bullshit by Steven Clarke. His rival, Gatsby himself, is vested with plenty of mystery by Sean Browne, but, having prevaricated for five years, is simply too used to keeping his distance to close the gap between himself and Daisy Buchanan, Tom's wife and his ex-lover. As the object of such passions, Matilda Sturridge looks exactly right and sings mournfully, but never quite suggests how she can have provoked such unrestrained ardour in men who could have almost any woman they choose - Ms Sturridge too often lapses into sulky teenage angst, surely not enough to stir catastrophic enmity between her lovers.
In support roles, Naomi Bullock is magnificently passionate as Tom's lover Myrtle, while Jon Gabriel Robbins' George is weak and broken as her husband, begging Tom for business as Tom eyes Myrtle's curves. There's a reminder of what Gatsby is hiding with his parties in the character of bootlegger Wolfsheim, a splendid turn from Patrick Lannigan in a suit so loud I expect you could hear it on the other side of Upper Street.
To take on Gatsby as a musical seems an obvious move - the splendid songs and dancing prove that - but it's still a bold one and, perhaps on this occasion, it does not succeed fully. The love triangle at the heart of the action did not completely convince - Tom's bluster never quite met Gatsby's faux insouciance and, between the egos, Daisy seemed a little lost. But the power of the novel's critique of the short interregnum between World War I and The Great Depression, is preserved and is as relevant in the bars and restaurants of The City today as it was nearly 90 years ago.