F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were celebrities. They peppered the gossip pages with stories of extravagance and glamour, just as addicted to the high life as characters from Scott’s novels. They did not get a happy ending. Writer Jenna May Hobbs gives them the voice to tell their own story, to take the audience through the romantic highs and alcohol-soaked lows of their relationship.
Scott (Craig Hamilton) and Zelda (Katharine Hardman) take it in turns to pick at memories of their life, reading old love letters, narrating particular episodes, and always picking up on the anachronisms and the lies of each other’s retelling. Both of them try to whitewash the more shameful moments of their pasts. Hobbs’s writing has the image-heavy, poetic quality of Fitzgerald’s own writing, helped by the quotations she uses.
Scott expresses frustration that he cannot explain his memory, he cannot recreate that tiny piece of his life, with any kind of authenticity. It is gone forever. Scott makes a nice point: biography can never be truly authentic, or authentically true. Something is lost in the translation of life to page. But Zelda keeps reproaching him for using her life, her words in his books, for turning her into a character. Hobbs’s play is the chance for her to speak in her own words. Except, of course, they are not her words but Hobbs’s. Poor Zelda, forever condemned to be voiceless.
The room is decorated in lush 20s and 30s finery: Martini glasses strewn on a table next to a typewriter, a chaise longue. But it is a small space, and louder moments come across as stark and harsh. Remembering a happy night in a ballroom Hardman and Hamilton dance brilliantly to jazz music, and they are very good but the floor is bouncing and all the audience is bobbing up and down involuntarily as if on a bus. There are also some unnecessary elements – we are in Paris, but they play accordion music just in case we forget (‘La Vie En Rose’was also written about 20 years later, but let’s not be snippy), Scott and Zelda are having a picnic, so they play birdsong just in case we forget.
Hardman and Hamilton completely commit to the parts, regularly engaging audience members in asides and chatting to them as they enter. They play their characters breathlessly, wildly, constantly going in for a kiss and never staying still.
“Gatsby was a fool”, says Scott. “He couldn’t change his past”. “At least he was trying,” replies Zelda, and so is she.
Your Fragrant Phantom is at C cubed (Venue 16) until 25th August (not 12th). For more information and tickets go to: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/your-fragrant-phantom