Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 2 May 2011


Charing Cross Hotel ⋄ 26th Apr - 14th May 2011

Zelda Fitzgerald checks out.

Natasha Tripney

The original flapper.

A gin bottle sits on the dressing table alongside a discarded string of pearls, a collage of sketches adorns one otherwise bare wall and a brown leather travelling trunk lays agape and expectant on the dishevelled bed.

This decadent disorder jars with the rather bland, blonde surroundings. The play, a solo piece about the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, written and performed by Kelly Burke and drawn from Fitzgerald’s own writings, takes place in a room at the Charing Cross Hotel, a once grand Victorian railway hotel on the Strand. While the building betrays traces of its former splendour, particularly in the impressive central staircase, coiling up some six floors, it’s been aggressively modernised and drained of much of its character.

This antiseptic quality is in some ways fitting, as Zelda’s later years were spent in clinics and sanatoriums and Burke’s play is written from this perspective, looking back at Zelda’s past, at her passionate, volatile marriage to F. Scott Fitzgerald and the heady hotel world of their life in New York before they decamped to the Riviera.  A Jazz Age icon and potent symbol of a woman’s voice suppressed, it’s easy to grasp the appeal – to biographers, to performers – of resurrecting Zelda.  It’s been a long time since she was viewed purely as the damaged wife, the adjunct, the weight around Fitzgerald’s neck, but it still bears repeating that she was a talented figure in her own right, bristling with creative energy – not only did she write, but she painted and even trained as a ballet dancer. But, in order to fund their lavish lifestyle, many of her articles were published under her husband’s name and he bridled at the mining of their life together for her one completed novel, Save Me the Waltz, while at the same time doing exactly the same thing himself in Tender is the Night.

Burke greets her hesitant guests on the staircase, before beckoning them to her room. She looks the part, in a diaphanous black flapper dress with taut dancer’s arms, and she’s Zelda from the start – she doesn’t break character even when ushering in sheepish latecomers; it’s a committed performance, fizzy and emotionally fluid, but it can’t quite varnish over the fact that her show walks an overfamiliar path. Structurally it’s formulaic, flip-flopping from the glitter of the past – the whirlwind courtship, those crackling early love letters – to her pill-fogged present.

Ché Walker’s production makes more sense of the space than Hotel Confessions, a recent double-bill of short plays also staged in a London hotel, even if he does frequently resort to making Zelda bounce and rebound off the furniture in an effort to make full use of the room. There’s an element of novelty to all this, of course, but the production makes a better case for its presence in the space and feels more comfortable in it.

That aside, the piece rests on Burke’s shoulders and she manages to carry it; she’s a compelling, watchable performer, who holds the attention throughout even if the piece itself is doing nothing that’s particular fresh, swimming as it does in waters that have already been charted.

For tickets visit the Riverside Studios website.


Natasha Tripney

Natasha co-founded Exeunt in 2011 and was editor until 2016. She's now lead critic and reviews editor for The Stage, and has written about theatre and the arts for the Guardian, Time Out, the Independent, Lonely Planet and Tortoise.

Zelda Show Info

Directed by Ché Walker

Written by Kelly Burke

Cast includes Kelly Burke


Running Time 1 hr (no interval)



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