First seen in Edinburgh, but deserving a life far beyond, Kelly Burke brilliantly brings her talents as both writer and actress to the service of the fascinating, humorous, affecting life story of someone who lived in the shadow of a literary icon and, in so-doing, destroyed herself.
The struggle of a less successful writer in love with an genius proves to be as toxic a combination for Zelda and Scott as it would be 40 years later for Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell. In one of the strongest moments, Zelda reads her partner’s new book Tender is the Night and sees her own words on the page. Rage, hurt and illness gradually lead to her incarceration and the crumbling of her relationship and identity. She now “lumps everything together into a great heap labelled The Past”.
Zelda’s is an affecting story but, as with her husband, it is the writing which thrills the most. She refers to being at a party where everyone is “talking champagne and drinking literature” and spending time with Scott in a place with “11 corkscrews and one toothbrush”.
Like the protagonists in Fitzgerald’s one-act play Thirst, in which three people find themselves stranded on a raft in an ocean waiting to die, Zelda finds herself cut adrift with no hope of rescue, her own sharks being of the more psychological kind.
Performing with the perfect teeth and Southern drawl of Rue McClanahan and with the lithe physicality of the ballet dancer that Zelda herself became, Burke never utters an insincere thought and her script doesn’t waste a line. Robert F Gross keeps the piece impressively and un-self consciously animated on Jessica Stevens’ effective set, and although Katie Munroe Farlie’s lighting design could do with more focus and fewer cues (60 cues in 60 minutes takes some beating), it succeeds in bringing eerie atmospherics to Zelda’s dark night of the soul.
If the play doesn’t quite address the fundamental concern of any monologue - “who is this person talking to and why?” - then it is a minor quibble for an outstanding piece about the agonies of art and the burden of love.
- Benet Catty