by Kelly Burke.
Charing Cross Hotel The Strand WC2N 5HX To 14 May 2011.
Mon-Sat 7pm & 9pm (no performance 2 May).
Runs 1hr No interval.
TICKETS: 020 8237 1111.
Review: Carole Woddis 28 April.
Close-up and personal success.
Portraying mental disintegration is hard when your audience is sitting barely a hair’s-breadth away. But Kelly Burke, reviving her sell-out performance in Edinburgh (2006) and last year at Leicester Square Theatre, overcomes it triumphantly in this one-woman show based on the life of Zelda, wife of F Scott Fitzgerald.
Scott Fitzgerald is known as the garlanded writer of classic American novels such as The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night. Zelda, meanwhile, except to the cognoscenti, has largely disappeared from view.
But Zelda and Scott were a team, even to the extent of Scott lifting entire entries from Zelda’s diary with nary a `by your leave’. Plagiarism – Scott didn’t seem to know the meaning of the word.
This much and more Burke, who also wrote the show, conjures for us in a bedroom suite in the opulent 19th century Charing Cross Hotel.
The quintessential Jazz Age flapper girl, in floating black chiffon, as she ushers us in, there is already something nervily over-insistent about this southern belle from Montgomery, Alabama.
But she also exudes immense charm and determination as, through a jagged pattern of diary writings, letters and excerpts from Scott’s novels, we witness a tempestuous life that ended when a fire broke out in the mental hospital to which she’d been consigned.
Here we have party-girl Zelda embarking on the hedonistic love affair that took her and Scott to the best hotels in New York and to the French Riviera before money and love ran out.
Burke’s use of the bedroom is dynamic, zapping between dressing table and bed to unearth hidden letters as if recalling treasured moments. Every moment – and movement – carries resonance, trapping us deeper in her story. As she emotionally unravels, Burke’s silhouette, caught in the dressing table mirror, appears to epitomise inner disarray; in the throes of sexual extravagance, she wraps herself greedily in white sheets. And evoking Zelda’s mania for ballet, Burke demonstrates a convincing facility there, too.
A partisan and brilliant tour de force, where the room’s intimacy leaves us nowhere to hide. We are unwilling accomplices in her tragic ride.
Zelda Fitzgerald: Kelly Burke.
Director: Ché Walker.
First performance of this production, presented by Century Productions, at the Charing Cross Hotel 26 April 2011.
Previous performances took place at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2006 and Leicester Square Theatre in 2010.