Review: Dietrich - Natural Duty
Peter Groom as Marlene Dietrich - photo by Veronika Marx
Markus Napier - Voice of Goebbels
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.
This real life tale of a legend takes us through the Weimar Republic, the Golden age of Hollywood, the Rise of Hitler, a world on the edge of collapse, and a long journey back to Berlin where it all began.
An intoxicating mix of theatre, cabaret and drag, this new one-(wo)man show by Peter Groom, was a total sell-out for VAULT Festival 2018.
Born in Berlin in 1901, Marie Magdalene "Marlene" Dietrich soon became a Hollywood legend, and the most famous German woman in the world.
However, when World War II was declared, she was forced to choose between the country that she loved, and what she knew was right.
Renouncing her German citizenship, Dietrich joined the American Army and fought against her homeland in order to free her people from Hitler.
With an American smile and Prussian discipline she would entertain GIs in an evening dress, then put on a combat uniform and head to the front.
ActDrop reviewed this show when it was at Vault Festival in January 2018 - read Peter Brown's 5 star review here.
Peter Groom's superb and completely engrossing one (wo)man show is back in town for a short run at Wilton's Music Hall, providing another chance to catch the largely unheard story of a particular period of time in the life of one of Hollywood's iconic movie stars, Marlene Dietrich.
Previously, Dietrich - Natural Duty was at Vault Festival back in January of this year.
That particular festival often throws-up some intriguing and unusual shows and this is one of them, with its content certainly justifying another spell in the capital to captivate audiences.
Created and performed by Peter Groom, the show is a fairly short piece that nonetheless packs a significant, sometimes affecting and always sparkling punch.
The sparkle mostly emanates from the dress which Peter Groom wears for the duration of the show.
The photo at the top of the page gives a mere glimpse of it and doesn't really do justice to the costume - that's no criticism of the photographer, I hasten to add.
But the dress - a replica of one worn by the great star and which must have cost enough to bankrupt a small country - needs stage lighting to really bring it to life and to work its magic.
It's not just that it sparkles, it also shimmers in a mesmerising way even when the actor isn't moving - it's the embodiment of star status and almost defines Dietrich, setting her apart from mere mortals.
But under the layers of make-up, haute couture and stylised hair design there resides another, more down-to-earth Dietrich who found herself entangled in the Second World War through offering her services to General Patten, who made her a Captain.
It's this aspect of Ms Dietrich's life that Mr Groom reveals in this short but surprisingly moving story.
Along the way, we hear of the tortuous conditions on the front - where Ms Dietrich spent 3 years, suffering along with the soldiers fighting to oust Hitler and the Nazis.
Lice, rats, and sheer exhaustion figure among the brief details we hear about the wartime conditions Ms Dietrich experienced.
We also hear of her painfully desperate search for her mother who was living in bomb-torn Berlin when the allied forces fought their way to the German capital.
In his fastidiously-delivered reconstruction of this legend of the silver screen, Peter Groom manages to portray many aspects of Ms Dietrich's personality and we find a personable and humorous woman - seemingly aloof at times - who could hold an audience hypnotically, almost literally in the palm of her hand.
Mr Groom is eminently able to do likewise, with the Wilton's audience hanging on to every word - and note, during his authentic renditions of the songs Ms Dietrich made famous.
There's an especially powerful crescendo when Mr Groom gives a haunting and spine-tingling rendition of Pete Seeger's 'Where have all the flowers gone'.
Dietrich - Natural Duty is not merely a portrait of an icon, but is the inspiring story of a strong-willed, determined woman who was able to cast aside Hollywood glitz to suffer alongside soldiers in the horrors of the front line.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Wilton's Music Hall
Our show listing for Dietrich - Natural Duty
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