Sex, sequins, and scintillating musical numbers are all brought to bear into writer/performer Peter Groom’s one man (Woman?) show about the life and times of the glamourous gay icon, the one and only Marlene Dietrich.
A gorgeous and moving show.
Dietrich: Natural Duty takes the form of a private and intimate concert with the titular singer, who regales us with the story of her life and performs the songs that made her famous all whilst an unseen journalist tries to interview her. Challenging our preconceptions of her and attempting to get behind Dietrich’s cold exterior to see what conflicts lie within.
A show like this, that focuses so intently on one famous person, requires a performer that is able to completely embody their spirit to the very smallest detail. This show, however, is in very good very hands with Peter Groom, who’s drag performance as Dietrich is simply stunning to see. His gorgeous sequin dress, his perfectly painted face, and his dry wry charm bring more than enough charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent to have us believe Marlene is right there in front of us. Groom doesn’t fall into the common trap many impressionists do of overplaying and charicaturing their subjects, instead he utilises the smallest of facial expressions and the subtle pause in the midst of an innuendo to have the audience in stitches. Perfectly embodying the camp yet deadpan sense of charm that has made Dietrich so beloved.
Groom’s performance is matched by a wonderful narrative that follows Dietrich’s career from a young actress in Germany to the front lines of World Two, supporting the army that is battling her former homeland. Indeed Dietrich’s conflicted sense of loyalty is one of the most interesting parts of her character, and the story does an able job of sketching both this inner turmoil and the horrors she witnessed at the front in a poignant, touching way.
Despite its many merits, the show could do with a few tweaks to really shore up the experience. The use of an offstage journalist to questions Dietrich’s motives was a wonderful choice. A means to create conflict and force her come out of her shell that was sadly underutilised for the majority of the performance. Similarly important parts of the performers life - her flirations with homosexuality and cross dressing for example - were missed out which represents a missed opportunity.
These however are not enough to dim the star talent here, and this is a gorgeous and moving show that puts a well deserved spotlight on one of the most interesting and unique women of the past century.