Legendary author and Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway is the subject of new musical Too Close To The Sun, running for a limited run at the Comedy Theatre.
Born in 1899 in Chicago, Hemingway began his career as a journalist before driving an ambulance in the First World War and consequently becoming a war correspondent, travelling around the world and no doubt inspiring the author to produce his now famous catalogue of classic American novels. Managing to also find the time to marry four times, Hemingway’s later life was plagued by his deteriorating health which was presumed to be the reason why he took his own life in 1961 at his home in Ketchum, Idaho.
It is here in Ketchum that Too Close To The Sun is set, charting what may have happened in the days running up to his suicide. Hemingway’s home is depicted as undeniably masculine, with a wooden structure and exposed brick walls covered with an equal mix of dusty books and the exposed skulls of his hunting trophies. Basked in sunlight and with the low sound of crickets in the background, what is meant to be an idyllic resting place is clearly more of a prison for the author, whose larger-than-life character masks a man in the midst of depression and caught in a spiral of alcoholism.
John Robinson’s musical centres not on Hemingway’s depression however (although there is plenty of booze involved), but concentrates on the relationship between his fourth wife Mary and his Barbie doll secretary Louella, whose sights are unashamedly focused on being wife number five. A man’s man, Hemingway is more than happy to flaunt his indiscretions in front of Mary, whose sophistication, wit and quick cutting remarks put her miles ahead of the vapid Louella, whose sad ballads about her desire to be famous by association don’t serve to gain much empathy from the audience. The arrival of his old friend and agent Rex proves the final struggle as the Hollywood wannabe tries his absolute hardest (mainly with the use of whisky and jazz hands) to persuade Hemingway to sign away the rights to make a movie of the celebrated author’s life.
Set to an eclectic mix of musical genres, the characters are each given their own individual style, with Hemingway’s angst portrayed through jazz inspired, saxophone wailing songs, whilst Mary’s numbers are sung to a more European soundtrack, transporting her from Idaho to the French Riviera with the help of an accordion and a floaty scarf, contrasting to Rex’s more old-fashioned, classic show tunes complete with clicking fingers and waving arms.
Whilst the majority of the events that take place in the musical may be entirely fictional, Hemingway’s final end is of course a sad reality, and whilst his supposed friends pray on him like vultures, with endless flattery a means to their desired ends, the tragedy that unfolds seemingly comes out of nowhere as the man behind the attractive face of celebrity is forgotten.