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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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Review of Quaint Honour – 4 Stars


Quaint Honour

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 30th October 2017



“a delightful piece of skilled writing that oozes pathos”


John Holmstrom was a radio announcer and playwright who used the pseudonym Roger Gellert. It was under this name that he wrote Quaint Honour which looked at homosexuality in an English Public School. Now playing at the Finborough Theatre it is presented for the first time since its world premiere in 1958 and coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 which partially decriminalised homosexuality in the UK.


Upon entering the compact theatre we are looking at what we learn to be a Housemaster’s study. In the opening scene Robert Hallowes, a housemaster in his fifties played by Simon Butteriss, is in conversation with Mungo Park a 17 year old Head of House about a forthcoming cricket match. We sense from these early exchanges that Park is a highly regarded and principled student.

Hallowes cuts short the meeting to announce he is doing his ‘set piece’ with Turner and Hamilton two fifteen year old junior students. His ‘set piece’ is an illuminating and often funny talk about the facts of life and the ‘tricky business of growing up’. He explains the physical differences between males and females to the particular embarrassment of the inexperienced Hamilton. The talk is concluded by informing the boys that in the absence of females within the school what may happen is that feelings can develop between boys though they should avoid any contact that may eventually ‘damage’ them.


When the talk is concluded Turner tells Hamilton of his bedroom experiences with some of the seniors. From here we learn more of the activities that are secreted away and it is clear that Turner has a very close sexual relationship with Tully a 17 year old House Prefect.

As the play progresses we learn more of the platonic friendship between Tully and Park who speaks of an unwanted sexual approach at school in his younger days and how keen he is to ensure protection of juniors from a similar experience. Turner challenges Tully to seduce Hamilton and the remainder of the play is about how their relationship develops, whether anyone finds out and if so what the consequences are. It makes for fascinating viewing.


The perfectly cast group of talented young actors are Jack Archer who is utterly convincing as Hamilton – cleverly depicting the character’s changes as the story develops, Jacques Miche who portrays the saucy Turner well and Oliver Gully who is a formidable Park bouncing off Harley Viveash’s stunning Tully. The experienced Simon Butteriss is perfect as the often twitchy Hallowes.

Overall this is a fascinating insight into life in a public school and how relationships alter following changes in circumstances. The cast are superb and each holds the attention of the audience as the direction from Christian Durham powers the play through from beginning to end. This timely revival of Quaint Honour is a delightful piece of skilled writing that oozes pathos, humour and provides an insight into seduction and survival in public school life in the fifties.


Reviewed by Steve Sparrow

Photography by Tristan Bell




is at the Finborough Theatre until 21st November



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