"What are you telling me, that you're, you're, you're gonna leave Emily, is this true? And, and run away with the, the, the winner of the Zelda Fitzgerald emotional maturity award?" That Woody Allen could crack a gag like that 30 years after the death of a woman who published just one, unsuccessful, novel is a testament to the place held in American culture by the iconic couple of the Jazz Age. In Save Me (at the Union Theatre until 29 September) we find out a lot more, but maybe not enough, about the woman F Scott Fitzgerald couldn't live, with and couldn't work without.
In a series of scenes that dip in and out of half of Zelda's 47 years, Caroline af Petersens' script presents a woman desperate to impress, desperate to prove herself and, at times, just desperate. Sherry Newton's portrayal captures the roiling energy and some of the sparkling wit, but is a little one-paced considering the demands of convincing as a 16 year-old coquette and a 40-something straitjacketed inmate of a "clinic". As Scott, Francis Moore is manipulative and ruthless, but, with both parties seemingly happy to fire aphorisms and lines from books at each other rather than converse, the connection between the two fails to spark.
At well over two hours long and comprising 17 scenes many of which end in shouting matches and walkouts, director Nicola Rockhill has a job on her hands to maintain the pace. The glorious music of the time runs like a thread through the play, but the video clips distract and disrupt the play's momentum. Save Me's ambition cannot be faulted, but it's least 30 minutes too long and requires a script with more light to balance the shade and more nuanced performances from the couple at the centre of the gathering storm of Depression and War.