There are characters throughout history that will keep intriguing us, fated to grace screens and stages in numerous incarnations for years to come, shadows of their former selves.
Zelda Fitzgerald, writer, dancer, Alabama sweetheart, original flapper and wife of legendary author F. Scott Fitzgerald, is one of these icons and, watching Kelly Burke take us on a journey through her eccentric life, you can’t help but feel she would have absolutely loved it.
Like many such icons, while Burke’s illuminating and electric portrayal of Zelda shows her to be as vivacious and exciting as you would expect, there is also a destructive slice of insecurity and darkness that lies within Zelda, her incredible ball of energy and passion for life almost overwhelming both her and those around her.
Languishing on a bed in the middle of a shabby chic room, the kitsch wallpaper peeled dramatically away from the corners of the walls as if the fateful fire we know she finally succumbs to has already been and gone, Zelda confides in us the dramatic journey that has led her to this room in a Maryland psychiatric clinic.
Banned from writing her novel, the one thing she is desperate to achieve, Zelda’s life is revealed through snippets of love letters, stories of wild drunken parties in hotels, tales of her and her husband’s rise to notorious fame and passages from her own work; her language poetic and rich as she describes stars falling into dinner plates and, when her increasingly erratic relationship with her husband breaks down, the pair as “passing each other silently because we’d forgotten every word in each other’s language”.
It’s a life led passionately, recklessly and with abandon. As she says with a devilish smile, at one point they have “a daughter, a nanny, 11 corkscrews and one toothbrush”, before rolling wildly into details of her wild affair with a French acquaintance.
Burke, alone on stage, portrays Zelda’s unique spirit in an exhausting performance that has you hanging on her every word. Elegant and lithe, Zelda’s short dalliance with a career in dance is as believable in Burke’s hands as her other persona as a writer, Burke’s face lighting up mischievously as she describes stealing ends of pencils so she can write illicitly in the night.
The show truly proves that old adage that it’s not always easy to tell where creative spirit ends and madness begins, but whatever the truth, you can’t help but fall in love with her for all her faults. By the conclusion, I found myself more and more protective of the now broken figure and wishing she could see so many people engrossed by her story, seemingly all she wanted from life.