Brighton Fringe 2019
This mixture of theatre, cabaret and drag returns to the UK fresh from it’s international tour to New York, Australia and Amsterdam and sold-out, critically acclaimed runs at the 2018 Edinburgh and VAULT Festivals.
Rialto is a lovely little venue with a bar and a small stage upstairs that was the perfect place to meet Marlene Dietrich, in what felt more like an intimate gathering than a performance.
Groom captures the elegance and the essence of an older Dietrich perfectly, from the moment Dietrich steps on the stage till the end, you are invited into a story-telling singing reflective journey through her personal and professional life. A question from a journalist triggers her to reluctantly start telling her story which begins with her role as Lola, and then focuses mainly on the war years and her move from Germany to America and becoming an American citizen. The journey follows her to the frontline of the war with the Allied troops, and worrying about her mother in Berlin as the bombs start to fall on the city as the war comes to an end. The final moments include her mother’s death and an emotive soft rendition of ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone’ by Peter Seeger.
The performance pays attention to detail, the dress, the lightening, the pout, the wink of an eye. With minimal props and subtle movement, Dietrich makes her personal experiences of the war come alive and draws us into her story, of the inspiration she was meant to offer, and the horrors she must have seen. Dietrich’s personal history and the larger social context are blended together, sometimes dry and funny, and at other times deeply moving, and punctuated with songs that now make more sense given the context. The story-telling does not get dramatic and yet still highlights the contradictions and courage of a German woman who leaves Germany during the Nazi period, and then finds herself back in the war on the frontline encouraging the troops with her songs and flirtatious sexy image, while dealing with the everyday conditions of life at war, from death to crabs. Dietrich’s journey feels more matter-of-fact, a natural duty as the title states, something that in her mind was more common sense than philosophical choice.
The overall experience is captivating and the length is just right, although towards the end a little more modulation of pace is needed. As someone who only knew the name Marlene Dietrich and a few images, the show brings her to life in an intimate way and makes me curious to find out more about this superstar. I highly recommend this performance for those new and old to Marlene Dietrich. It seamlessly blends theatre, cabaret, drag, story-telling for an hour that leaves you feeling connected with Marlene without overplaying her superstar status.