Dietrich: Natural Duty
Reviewed – 25th January 2018
“Groom is a sensational storyteller, able to create vivid images of the world in which Dietrich inhabited, with nothing more than a microphone, a packet of cigarettes and a small table and chair”
In the depths of the deep, dark tunnels underneath Waterloo Station lies a microcosm of art, innovation and creative vitality. The Vaults has opened its doors for its annual arts festival, which boasts as being London’s largest. The sheer multitude of theatre shows, performance art, film and comedy going on within the next eight weeks makes it the capital’s own little slice of the Edinburgh Fringe. Dietrich: Natural Duty is a play mixed with a cabaret show that is not to be missed. Through song, vivid storytelling and drag, the life of the Hollywood legend, Marlene Dietrich is brought to life in this mesmerising and intimate one (wo)man show.
Right from the onset when theatre maker Peter Groom comes sashaying down the aisle poised and statuesque in full Dietrich-garb, he has the whole audience captivated. Big-eyed and pouty in a single spotlight, he croons his way through honky-tonk tunes of yesteryear. The voice of a British journalist suddenly pierces the atmosphere, startling Dietrich out of her performance. He asks a question about Marlene’s past that takes her reeling back to how everything began. We are taken on a journey through Dietrich’s early life in her hometown of Berlin, to being discovered by Hollywood, to the turbulent moment during World War II where she had to choose between Germany and the country she had now come to call home. Deciding to denounce her German citizenship and go on the road with the American troops, Dietrich makes it her duty to fight against her homeland and free her people from the grips of Hitler’s dictatorship. Trying to survive the deadly front by day whilst glamorously entertaining the Yankee boys by night, we watch the toll it takes on her during and after the conflict had ended, having to transition back into the role of the ultimate movie star of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Peter Groom is a sensational storyteller, able to create vivid images of the world in which Dietrich inhabited, with nothing more than a microphone, a packet of cigarettes and a small table and chair. Songs are cleverly selected and placed within the show at relevant moments that helps to move the story along, performing not as a interlude but as integral, pivotal emotional shifts within Dietrich’s life. Groom gives a particularly moving rendition of the political song Where Have All The Flowers Gone? symbolising the actress’ anger with the war and the amount of pain it had caused. Dietrich: Natural Duty is a timely production, highlighting how we are living in tumultuous political times, where history could be repeating itself. However, as thought provoking as the themes this production draws up are, it is all done with a touch a class, comic coolness, and candour – all with the help of a bejewelled gown, smouldering looks, hip bumps and a fabulous wig of course.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Dietrich: Natural Duty
Vaults Theatre until 28th January