Review: Dietrich - Natural Duty
It is 1942, on the battlefields of North Africa, in a gold sequin gown, Marlene Dietrich takes to the stage to launch her own offensive against the German Reich.
For the next three years she would fight the war her way, with an irresistible mix of songs, sequins, sex and sympathy.
An intoxicating mix of theatre, cabaret and drag, this new one-(wo)man show by Peter Groom, created for VAULT Festival 2018, uses music, stories and songs - including Falling in Love Again, Lili Marlene, Where have all the Flowers gone?, Boys in the Backroom, Lola, The Laziest Girl in Town - to reveal a Hollywood icon's extraordinary commitment to duty.
The famous singer and actress Marlene Dietrich is once again in the spotlight in this one-man show created and performed by Peter Groom.
Ms Dietrich had a lengthy life - dying at the age of 90 in 1992.
And with a career that began in the 1920s, there would be too much biographical detail to cover her entire working life as a performer in a short stage show.
So here Peter Groom focuses on the actresses's experiences during the period just prior to the outbreak of World War II and the subsequent years of that horrendous conflict.
Focusing on that period enables Mr Groom to tell an illuminating and inspiring story many of us might be unfamiliar with: Ms Dietrich's involvement in entertaining troops on the front line and raising money from the sale of war bonds to fund the war effort.
Setting the portrayal of a star of Marlene Dietrich's standing against the austere, ageing brick wall of one of the Vault's tunnels might seem like an unlikely, if not a downright odd combination, especially as Mr Groom sports a wonderfully sparkling gown (which seems an exact replica of the outfit Ms Dietrich wore in this rendition of Lili Marlene available on YouTube).
However strange the contrast between the brick wall background and the sparkling image of a mega star, the events Peter Groom reveals fit in many ways, particularly as he tells us of Ms Dietrich's experiences on the front line in Germany.
Moving effortlessly between English and German, Mr Groom provides an authentic and mesmerisingly glamorous impersonation of the film and stage star in both his consummate delivery of a considerable number of her much-loved songs, as well as recounting extraordinary events from her life story, such as her meeting with Goebbels (anxious to obtain her autograph and persuade her to remain in Germany) and her encounters with rats crawling over her face while at the font line as a captain in the US forces.
Peter Groom wonderfully captures the apparent smouldering aloofness that we find in Ms Dietrich's stage and film persona, but he opens our eyes to a non-stereotypical movie star who possessed a huge amount of common sense and practicality, not often associated with the attitude and behaviour of her peers.
And good sense seems here to go hand-in-hand with a certain hard-headedness and determination, as we're told about her obviously sincere dedication to assist in her adopted country's war effort.
Peter Groom and his director, Oliver Gully, certainly bring us authenticity in the costume department as well as in the well-chosen and well-sung songs.
But it's the underlying character and personality of Marlene Dietrich which leaves the biggest impression from what is a revetting and well-honed performance that offers real insights into an icon of the 20th century.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Vault Festival - The Pit
Our show listing for Dietrich - Natural Duty
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