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Dietrich – Natural Duty

Wilton’s Music Hall

Dietrich - Natural Duty

Dietrich – Natural Duty

Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed – 19th November 2018


“Groom’s is an assured and understated performance in which he deftly uncovers Dietrich’s often overlooked private life”


It is 1942. On the battlefields of North Africa, in a gold sequin gown, Marlene Dietrich takes to the stage to fight the war her way. Peter Groom re-enacts this in his one man show, Dietrich – Natural Duty, uncannily resembling Dietrich, or rather the illusory image of Dietrich that we all know and love. But this show is much, much more than an impersonation.

Using the artform of cabaret, Peter Groom gives us a potted history of the “the most famous German woman in the world”; born in Berlin, who becomes a huge Hollywood star. Groom concentrates on the war years when Dietrich’s homeland changes and she is forced to make the difficult choice of renouncing her German citizenship. This approach has the potential of becoming dangerously dull, but Peter Groom is a rare talent. He doesn’t preach or fall into the trap of exposition for one moment. Instead he gets right to the core, capturing the essence and the passion, ultimately delivering a short show that has the emotional impact of the war poems.

Wilton’s Music Hall is a perfect setting for this act. Groom enters and strikes up with ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’. The show is interrupted by an imaginary interviewer which enables Groom to add humour to the poignancy, revealing the dismissive and self-deprecatory side of Dietrich too. Her observations about Hollywood, her disdain for method acting are perceptive, frank and hilarious. “I did as I was told and counted in my head until it was all over” she famously said of her work ethic on set, “… but maybe that’s sex for some people”.

It is one-liners like these that help make the show, and Groom has the unrivalled knack of throwing them away. He doesn’t milk the paradoxes; instead, with a deadpan delivery, he talks of Marlene being ‘relegated’ back to being a movie star after the war ends. It is one word in a split second, in which Groom summarises Dietrich’s spirit. She always referred to the ‘movie star’ as a different person, separate from the one noted for her humanitarian efforts during the war. What this show reveals is the personal cost of her decisions; the agonising choice of allying herself to the US – bombing the city in which her mother is still living. But if she doesn’t do this, Hitler might win. She could never go back to Germany – she tried to in the 1960s, but she was booed off stage as a traitor; bombs were put in the theatres.

Groom’s is an assured and understated performance in which he deftly uncovers Dietrich’s often overlooked private life. “Look me over closely, tell me what you see” he sings in his gorgeous, velvet falsetto. Dietrich’s best-known tunes are all here, including a heart-rending “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”. The only reservation I have is the invisible accompaniment: I did wish, at times, for an onstage pianist. But when Groom tail ends the show with “Falling In Love Again” all is forgiven, and you do fall in love again; with the artist, the show. And with Dietrich.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Veronika Marx


Dietrich – Natural Duty

Wilton’s Music Hall until 24th November


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Songs For Nobodies | ★★★★ | March 2018
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★½ | June 2018
Sancho – An act of Remembrance | ★★★★★ | June 2018
Twelfth Night | ★★★ | September 2018


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The Three Musketeers – 3 Stars


The Three Musketeers

St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden

Reviewed – 8th August 2018


“the rip-roaring finale in the church brought the audience to its feet in an explosion of cheers and applause”


This is Iris Theatre’s 10th season in the gardens of St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden. They produce two shows over the course of the summer – a Shakespeare and a family show – and this year’s swashbuckling adventure from 17th century France is a perfect confection for a family night out in London on a summer’s evening. The action takes place in three different playing arenas in the gardens themselves, and also moves into the church. Although moving between locations couldn’t help but slow things down a bit, the delight of the different mise-en-scènes more than made up for it, and the rip-roaring finale in the church brought the audience to its feet in an explosion of cheers and applause.

Dumas’ original novel is a behemoth of a book, and credit must go to Daniel Winder, Iris Theatre’s Artistic Director, for distilling it into a largely comprehensible two hour play. The younger children in the audience would certainly have found elements of the story confusing, in particular differentiating between the the national conflict – England vs France – and the French religious conflict – Catholic vs Huguenot – but the pursuit of the Queen’s diamonds was a good thread for them to follow, with excellent visual cues to help them through the more labyrinthine plot developments. Paul-Ryan Carberry’s sure-handed direction steered a steady course throughout, using elements of slapstick and pantomime with a deft touch to balance the darker themes and more baroque plot twists. In addition, Winder’s decision to turn d’Artagnan into a woman worked brilliantly, and the young female musketeer was a fantastic counterpoint to the magnificently malevolent Milady, played with immense hauteur and brio by Ailsa Joy.

Working in the open air in the middle of Central London is immensely challenging for an actor, and the predominantly young cast attacked the task with relish, and they were aided too by Adam Welsh’s excellent sound design. Inevitably, many of the performances were painted with pretty broad strokes – open air theatre is rarely the place to go for subtlety and nuance – but there was a terrific ensemble spirit, and some excellent multi-role work too, particularly from the charismatic Stephan Boyce (Planchet/Treville/Rochefort/Lord Winter) and the splendidly entertaining Elliot Liburd (Porthos/King of France).

Finally, special mention must go to Roger Bartlett, the production’s fight director. No evening spent in the company of the musketeers would be complete without some serious sword play, and Iris Theatre did not disappoint in this regard. There is something rather wonderful about hearing the church clock striking and seeing the garden’s white roses glowing in the dusk, whilst watching a mighty clash of swords, and knowing that 21st century London nightlife continues all around. A unique treat; there to be savoured.


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Nick Rutter


The Three Musketeers

St Paul’s Church until 2nd September



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