Wilton’s Music Hall, London
Peter Groom’s fascinating and entertaining show highlights the extraordinary contribution Marlene Dietrich made during the war.
On entering Wilton’s Music Hall, I was fully prepared to admit that I knew nothing about Marlene Dietrich in terms of either her career or her life – but by the end of Peter Groom’s meticulously researched show, I felt I certainly understood how the war impacted on her life.
Stepping into the spotlight and glamorously dressed, Groom captures Dietrich’s sharp wit and striking honesty (judging from the YouTube interviews and performances I looked at). But he also manages to capture that melancholy element to her personality that shines through in his eyes particularly when discussing the horror of war or performing ‘Where Have all the Flowers Gone?’ It is a performance that has been carefully constructed to ensure that it is as believable as possible – without coming across as a tribute act.
While the show covers elements of her early career as a film star, Dietrich: Natural Duty is more focused on the extraordinary work that she did throughout the war entertaining the troops to keep their morale up – with her description of what she saw during the war proving to be particularly vivid.
By balancing her sense of humour of her performances as a star with the frankness and pain of the war, the show strips back the glamour from the actress to reveal a woman filled with extraordinary strength, passion and honesty – performed to perfection by Peter Groom.
Every moment is enhanced further by Fraser Craig’s beautifully soft but striking lighting, that not only highlights the more emotional moments to great effect but also along with the way the stage is set helps to whisk the audience back in time, making them feel as though they are reliving Dietrich’s memories with her, giving it a more intimate feel that works well.
But it feels as though the show tries to cram too many elements into an hour that doesn’t give enough time to explore the important moments in much depth – such as Dietrich’s decision to become an American citizen and her thoughts on the war could have been expanded on a lot more. Yes, we are shown her the many different sides of her life and personality but you are left wanting to know more, feeling slightly on the outside of what she was truly like.
It could also be seen that perhaps Dietrich: Natural Duty is more of a show that is suited for those who are familiar with her life and career as opposed to a newcomer – but for some of those newcomers such as me the show does awaken an interest in finding out more thanks to the brilliant sharpness of Peter Groom’s performance.