WINTER’S TALES AT THE SAM WANAMAKER PLAYHOUSE.
James Norton’s lightness of touch is perfect for these stories from the Jazz Age and the post-Crash gloom of American high society.
F. Scott Fitzgerald began his career as a gilded youth at the heart of contemporary culture, making James Norton the perfect choice to read this selection of his stories. With a deft mix of English narration and American-accented speech, Norton creates a heady world of jazz-age characters where the stiffest of cocktails are always to hand, but happiness proves entirely illusory.
In Three Hours Between Planes, Donald impulsively visits an old flame, who was ten years old when she last cut him dead, sailing past on a bicycle. But his 12-year-old self has kept a vision of Nancy in his heart, and now, with her husband away, it almost seems that their romance, such as it was, could reignite in a much more interesting way.
But his promising efforts are soon dashed when she realises he’s not the adorable Donald Bowers she remembers, but only boring old Donald Plant, who was dumped unceremoniously back then, and will be again now. As Nancy, Norton’s breathy, coaxing tones bring a vision of dazzling beauty and glamour to mind – a woman made for trouble in very much the same mould as Daisy Buchanan, Jay Gatsby’s lifelong love.
Babylon Revisited is a dreadfully sad story of an alcoholic widower who’s reformed sufficiently to justify asking for custody of his young daughter Honoria, who adores him and longs to live with her Daddy.
With horrid inevitability, his ‘friends’ from the past crash in on his plans and wreck the tentative agreement arrived at with his chilly sister-in-law and her husband.
The outcome may be signalled rather early on in the story, but it’s heartbreaking for all involved – though it’s not entirely clear whether Honoria has actually had a lucky escape. James Norton creates a great range of characters in this story, including the flirtatious, hungover Lorraine Quarrles, beautiful but utterly dangerous, and the adorable Honoria, flinging herself into her father’s arms and whispering, ‘When?’
For the final story, Norton shows us his comedy chops with a marvellous reading of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Forget Brad Pitt’s film – this narration is much more entertaining. F. Scott Fitzgerald was inspired to write the story by a remark from comic innovator Mark Twain, and it follows the difficult life of a baby born as a man of 70, who suffers the very awkward affliction of gradually becoming younger as time passes.
Norton is accompanied throughout the performance by pianist Gwilym Simcock, whose beautiful playing creates a sense of intimacy that draws the audience deeper into the Jazz-Age world Fitzgerald described as one of miracles, art, excess and satire.
James Norton’s gentlemanly diffidence does full justice to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wit, style and storytelling in this sparkling candlelit entertainment.