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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Trafalgar Studios   Autumn 2012

If Zelda Fitzgerald was still alive, she would probably have to take out a restraining order on actress, playwright and borderline stalker Kelly Burke. 

So thorough is the research in this charming solo show, it is clear that Zelda - the wife of The Great Gatsby novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald - is a total obsession for Burke. And we are the ones who benefit from that obsession. 

Lying on a bed on the stage of the Trafalgar Studios’ intimate smaller theatre, Zelda looks utterly contented as she writes and re-reads her scribblings. But as soon as she begins to talk, it becomes apparent that she is a very troubled woman. 

Under Robert F. Gross’ imaginative direction, the audience is turned into a selection of schizophrenic Zelda’s favourite imaginary friends. We are her sounding-board as she rambles semi-coherently through her past with Scott – interspersed with readings from her own equally enthralling writing. 

The Alabama belle attracted the lieutenant-turned-novelist with her beauty, wit and intelligence. Within years they were living a decadent life in New York - and later the French Riviera - where the emphasis was always on fun and parties rather than worrying where the next pay cheque was coming from. 

“We had a daughter, a nanny, 11 corkscrews and one toothbrush,” Zelda tells her audience. But by the time she reached her late twenties she was really suffering from being left in her husband’s wake. 

This is the drama’s third substantial showing following runs in Edinburgh, at the Leicester Square and New End Theatres and in a bedroom at the Charing Cross Hotel under the direction of Ché Walker. And while there is still room for fine-tuning in the script, Burke’s performance - which made her a Best Female Performer finalist in the 2011 Off West End Awards - is flawless. 

The actress displays all the beauty and charm of her heroine as the floats around Jessica Stevens’s set in sophisticated silk pyjamas. And while Katy Munroe Farlie’s lighting is perhaps a little overly complicated, it emphasises Zelda’s own perception of her shadowy existence. 

Burke has identified a really interesting and often overlooked subject for this show. And as the theatre and film worlds go gaga for The Great Gatsby (the novel has just come out of copyright), this is highly-recommended chance to see another side to the story.

Lauren Paxman

Review - Zelda - Trafalgar Studios 2012

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