Running in rotation with Celebrity Night at Café Red and alongside another new piece about Zelda Fitzgerald, Zelda has it’s work cut out for it. In Kelly Burke’s monologue, a fascinating character is revealed, but this is too short and in need of something more than one woman on stage. At Trafalgar Studios.
Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald’s life was riotous and rambunctious, an epitome of Roaring Twenties excess and irrationality, and their tempestuous romance has been the subject of many a fictionalised recounting (including Zelda’s own novel Save Me the Waltz). While there’s many an argument that their lives may have been romanticised beyond recognition, including Zelda’s elevation to a feminist icon by biographer Nancy Milford, the tale of a love so powerful it burned itself out is a classic conceit, which this piece fulfills fully.
In Zelda, Kelly Burke has written a monologue for herself that speaks beautifully of a frayed soul, a woman on the verge of madness doing her best to keep sane. Cast as the guests at a child’s dinner party, the audience become Zelda’s confessors as she recounts her story, taking us through her relationship with the more famous Fitzgerald, her own aspirations as a writer and her brief toying with becoming a dancer. But the main element throughout is her mental state – in Burke’s version, Zelda is clearly bordering on schizophrenic, and much of the plot is about her trying to live life without succumbing to her illness.
While this is all well and good – very engaging and interesting, in fact – there are two indelible facts that stand in the way of Zelda being enjoyable. Firstly, it is too short; a barely one-hour monologue for a West-End-priced ticket borders on rip-off, and there’s not enough time to take in the piece or the character beyond bouncing off the surface. Secondly, not enough happens: it’s all Zelda recounting stories from her life, and the result, while it slowly reveals a fascinating character and a life, is in desperate need of more elements – more characters, a change in scenery, anything to alleviate the simplicity of one woman on a basically bare stage for an hour. The text isn’t gripping enough to warrant this kind of attention.
It’s such a shame, because this is a life of social engagements – parties and situations are well described, but words will never do the scenes themselves credit. With recent and upcoming Gatsby adaptations rife, surely this was an opportunity to show the Roaring Twenties in all of their splendour. It’s no surprise that both Fitzgeralds wrote of wild parties, passionate romance and lost youth – they lived it. Why on earth would you then stage a play where we can’t see it? And their supporting cast ranges from Hemingway through Isadora Duncan to Gertrude Stein…
The piece started off as a Ché Walker-directed, site-specific piece in the Charing Cross Hotel, and I can imagine it worked wonderfully there – the faded glory of the old hotel, with a twenties socialite throwing herself through the gilt and brocade with abandon, strikes as the perfect set for a rambling monologue. But in a small theatre, the magic fades. It’s still an impressive performance from Burke, and the writing is good enough, but this is a piece in desperate need of something more.