PLAYING “last Daisy” in The Great Gatsby – London’s longest running immersive play – is an honour in itself, feels actress Safeena Ladha, adding that while it saddens her to say goodbye to this “very complex” character, she is now ready to explore beyond the stage.
The Great Gatsby is running at Gatsby’s Mansion within Immersive|LDN in Mayfair until January 7, 2023, which will be its final season in London. Its final extension has been officially announced, bringing its triumphant run of over seven years to an end.
First conceived in 2015 by director Alexander Wright and producer Brian Hook, The Great Gatsby has subsequently run in 14 other venues worldwide. It first came to London in 2017 but was forced to close in March 2020 due to pandemic. It was one of the first shows to re-open under socially distanced conditions before subsequent lockdown. It finally reopened in September 2021.
The Great Gatsby is an immersive play, inspired by the seminal twenties’ novel of the same name. Narrated by Nick Carraway (depicted by Greg Fossard), the play revolves around Jay Gatsby (played by Elliot Liburd), a millionaire who has become the talk-of-the-town thanks to his lavish, indulgent parties in the hopes of attracting the attention of his former flame Daisy Buchanan.
Eastern Eye got in touch with the 25-year-old British actress playing the iconic role of Daisy as she spoke at length about her experience with the play, her background, Asian artists’ representation and future plans. “I keep forgetting that January is so soon. To be the last Daisy is an honour. It’s sad, because I’ve enjoyed playing her. It had been an amazing journey where I got a chance to develop my character over a long period of time,” said the actress.
Daisy is not just any female lead. Her character is complex and her choice between Gatsby and her husband is one of the main conflicts, around which the plot revolves. Playing Daisy has been an intense experience, said Ladha, adding that she feels that over time, the character has been rubbing off on her a little bit – “sometimes in a good way and sometimes in not very good way”.
“When I initially started, I thought I am not like her. But the more I have been playing her, the more I can see some similarities or maybe it’s just that she has influenced me in some ways.
“I still don’t think we are exact same person. But in some ways, I am or I have slightly had moments of ‘oh, that was a little bit more Daisy of me than the normal’,” said the actress.
“She has a tendency to over think and panic. And sometimes, I find myself just like over thinking things. I think there are more similarities between us now than when I first started,” said the actress.
Born and brought up in London, Ladha has always been inclined towards performing arts, starting from different dance forms and then moving to drama and acting. Speaking about her background, she revealed how she “fell in love” with this world of arts at a very young age and how her parents were always supportive towards her choices.
“I started with ballet. And then it all kind of snowballed from there. I was quite young when I must have said I want to do acting as well. My parents were super supportive. They happily paid for both me and my sister to go to dance and drama school, which I’m obviously so grateful for because it used to add up to a lot of money. And my dream one day is to be able to pay them back,” said the actress.
“I remember always wanting to do it. Like I don’t ever remember there being a time where I thought that I wanted to do anything else as a job,” said the actress, adding that she found an “amazing acting teacher” with whom she also did her first professional acting job at an age of 19.
“I was lucky enough to work with actors who were a good a few years older than me, and so therefore had more experience than me. And at that point I had no professional experience,” the actress told Eastern Eye.
Ladha made her West End debut as Stick Lady Love in StickMan Live at the Leicester Square Theatre.
While auditioning for The Great Gatsby, Ladha said she went ahead with “not just Daisy in mind” but for any female character. Understandably, when she landed with this prominent lead role after multiple rounds of auditions and workshops, it came as “best shock ever”.
Playing such a role in the timeless classic required Ladha to undertake extensive research.
“I read the book and then I also re-watched the newest movie, just to see how she was played by someone else to kind of get a visual idea. Both helped.
“Furthermore, what I did was I looked at people’s essays on the book, to understand how they see this character. That was very interesting as everyone has varying opinions and it was eye-opening to know how people perceive things differently,” the actress said, adding she also understood a lot while doing the show.
“The audience has varying opinion of me – some not like Daisy very much. Especially at the end of the show, when she makes that decision between Tom (her husband) and Gatsby, which is obviously the eternal kind of struggle for her, people either get on board or they don’t,” she said, adding that such a divide in public opinion tends to escalate more in immersive plays as people get to know different sides of characters closely.
Immersive play implies the play’s environment is designed to deliver an all-encompassing experience, from the moment audience enters the audience Gatsby’s Mansion and come into main jazz bar area. The first scene happens where almost all characters speak and audience starts to get an idea of who everyone is. As the play proceeds, people are pulled into different rooms and areas where they get to witness different characters closely.
The play is designed in such a way that no matter where people go, or follow, they get to witness key scenes together but “with a slightly different perspectives on things depending whom they followed at different points”, said the actress.
“People who have been with me quite a lot throughout the show have seemed to have enjoyed it. So I’m assuming that they hopefully don’t feel like they missed out on anything.
As The Great Gatsby comes to its final leg in London, Ladha is excited for next phases in her career and is looking forward to appear on both small and big screen. “I am open to whatever comes next. I’d like to stay open to things in the sense of not limiting myself and explore more. I would like to try a bit more screen. I don’t know why but I’ve always wanted to do like an action sequence. It’s just one of those things I’d love to do.”
Over the aspect of Asian artists’ representation, Ladha has mixed feelings yet feels “things are changing in a good way”.
“It’s nice to see more Asians on screen who are just playing like a normal British Asian, someone who belongs here. I overall find it positive in terms of what’s being put out there for Asian actors to apply in an audition. But I also feel there is going to be a certain amount of stereotyping to an extent. At the same time, things are also changing in a positive way.
“I myself haven’t experienced anything negative yet. We are seeing more Asians in a range of roles, which is good. And I can definitely say that after playing Daisy,” she concluded.