Flappers, Fitzgerald, and ‘bathtub gin’ bring Gatsby to life at Senate House

Friday 22 April 2016

Elegant men dressed up in ‘white flannels’ and jazzy flappers to match from the roaring twenties, will be the order of the day at Senate House when the School of Advanced Study’s (SAS) immersive re-imagining of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby takes place on 5 May, 7.30–10pm.

Recreating the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of 1922, the year in which Gatsby is set, the event will bring to life expert research into Scott Fitzgerald’s jazz-age world. Visitors will drink prohibition cocktails, learn how ‘jazz’ really sounded and what it meant in 1922, what they danced in 1922 (hint: it wasn’t the Charleston), what the fashions of the times really looked like, how Prohibition worked (and didn’t work), what the scents they used smelled like, and much, much more.

Guests will also have the unique opportunity to taste authentic ‘bathtub gin’ from a recipe written down by Scott Fitzgerald that was lost in his archives until Fitzgerald expert Professor Sarah Churchwell, SAS’s chair in public understanding for the humanities, discovered it. She teamed up with the London Gin Club and Sacred Gin in Highgate, London, and together they have recreated for the first time in 94 years this authentic Prohibition recipe.

Perfume expert Sarah McCartney has created two bespoke scents, inspired by Gatsby, which will also be available for sale on the night, and will discuss the perfumes of the period. Guests will wander among carefully curated exhibition displays, talk to roaming experts, watch films, hear recordings, and listen to pop-up talks, in order to deepen their understanding of the ideas in The Great Gatsby, and the world it reflected. In addition to surprise performances and some guest appearances, the evening will be capped off by a live performance from a jazz quartet.

The Great Gatsby is the first in a new series of SAS (part of the University of London) public engagement initiatives, designed by Professor Churchwell, which aims to bring iconic works of art to life using research expertise to shape an immersive experience.

‘The idea is basically immersive theatre meets curated scholarship: and in the case of Gatsby, when that happens they throw a party,’ explains Professor Churchwell. ‘ We want to break down the barriers between audience and lecturer, and between audiences and work of art, by creating dynamic, participatory experiences in which visitors can deepen their knowledge of our culture's most famous books and the histories that informed them.’ 

‘This is all based on a simple premise,’ Professor Churchwell adds, ‘which is that I passionately believe serious learning can be seriously fun. We want to transform people’s expectations about what it means to encounter academic research in the humanities – it can tell a story, it can bring the past to life, and if it wants, it can throw a party. In Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, the party is a metaphor for modern life. For our Living Gatsby event, the party is a metaphor for modern learning.’

Visit the Living Literature website for more information. Tickets for The Great Gatsby event can be booked here.   

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Notes to Editors:

1. For further information, please contact: Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations Officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8653  / Maureen.mctaggart@sas.ac.uk.

2. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London  is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. In 2014-15, SAS: welcomed 805 research fellows and associates; held 2,073 research dissemination events; received 23.1 million visits to its digital research resources and platforms; and received 213,456 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities: Being Human. Find out more at www.sas.ac.uk or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews

3. Living Literature is a new series of events from the School of Advanced Study, University of London, bringing an iconic work of art to life by using research expertise to shape an audience’s experience. Based on the model of immersive theatre, these immersive lectures will break down the barriers between audience and lecturer, and between audience and work of art, by creating dynamic, participatory avenues for audiences to discover key ideas, themes, histories, and contexts. Find out more at http://livingliterature.blogs.sas.ac.uk/about/.

4. The University of London is a federal University and is one of the oldest, largest and most diverse universities in the UK. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University is recognised globally as a world leader in Higher Education. Its members are 18 self-governing institutions of outstanding reputation, together with a number of prestigious central academic bodies and activities. Learn more about the University of London at http://www.london.ac.uk