Saturday 24 March 2018

Irish echoes in tragic life of 'first flapper' and muse, Zelda

Mental illness and living in the shadow of a genius took its toll on Zelda Fitzgerald

CENTRE STAGE: Sharon Coade who stars in the one-woman show ‘Zelda’ at Dublin’s Theatre Upstairs. Photo: Gerry Mooney
CENTRE STAGE: Sharon Coade who stars in the one-woman show ‘Zelda’ at Dublin’s Theatre Upstairs. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

The story of F Scott Fitzgerald and his troubled wife Zelda is one that, in part, echoes the Irish people's current situation.

The first celebrity couple of America's jazz age, Zelda and F Scott lived through the boom of the Twenties followed by austerity in the crash of the Thirties.

"They were poor for an awful lot of their lives, and they lived way beyond their means," says Sharon Coade, the star of the one-woman show Zelda, written by the esteemed Eddie Naughton, at Dublin's Theatre Upstairs.

"They still hold a fascination for so many people."

Fitzgerald was an alcoholic bully-cum-control-freak while Zelda was an icon of the Twenties' jazz age ("the first flapper" as her husband called her) who sadly spent extended periods of her life in mental institutions.

Zelda and F Scott, author of The Great Gatsby, were also one of the original toxic relationships of the era.

"They ruined each other but they loved each other so much. I'm not sure you'd have an F Scott Fitzgerald without Zelda and vice versa," Sharon says.

"She suffered from schizophrenia and she also suffered from being in his shadow. Her letters to Scott from 1930 onward, after her first breakdown, are also published and are incredibly beautiful and sad, especially with regard to her illness and what it meant for her. She was an intriguing woman, totally fearless and very talented – writer, dancer and painter," continues Sharon.

"She wrote her only novel, Save Me the Waltz, after her breakdown, in just six weeks. And while she was his muse and was everywhere in his stories, Zelda wanted her work to be taken seriously in its own right. They often wrote short stories and articles together which were published under his name because they got paid more for an F Scott Fitzgerald piece. But he did champion her writing and her painting.

"We hope that the play will shine a bit more light on this complex and extraordinary woman and if people leave the theatre wanting to know more of Zelda, we'll be happy! She is someone we should not forget," Sharon says of Zelda, who died, aged 47, in March 1948, when a fire broke out in the hospital where she was awaiting electroshock therapy treatment.

She was locked in her room. F Scott died of a heart attack in 1940.

The words on their tombstone – the final sentence of The Great Gatsby – could have been written for Ireland during the recession: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Zelda runs at the Theatre Upstairs at Eden Quay in Dublin until June 14., and 085 77 27 375

Sunday Independent

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