Home » London Theatre Reviews » Dietrich: Natural Duty at Wilton’s Music Hall | Review

Dietrich: Natural Duty at Wilton’s Music Hall | Review

Peter Groom in Dietrich Natural Duty - Photo by Monir El Haimar
Peter Groom in Dietrich Natural Duty – Photo by Monir El Haimar

Sometimes it’s amazing how a celebrity is well known but actually isn’t. Take Marlene Dietrich for example. I grew up knowing Marlene and her songs, especially “Lili Marleen” and “Falling in Love Again” but have never seen any of her films or even seen a recording of her performing. In fact, beyond the image, I knew nothing about Dietrich until I made a visit to Wilton’s Music Hall to see the amazing Dietrich: Natural Duty.

Created and performed by Peter Groom. Dietrich: Natural Duty is a wonderful tribute to a truly remarkable singer, actor and all-round performer. Peter, looking absolutely stunning, really brings Marlene Dietrich to life in a one hour show co-written and directed by Oliver Gully. Everything is there. The flawless makeup, the beautiful hair, the gorgeous gown by Kathleen Nellis, and the attitude are on a simple stage and Dietrich is back in the limelight once more. The show is basically a cabaret with an unseen voice breaking in to ask questions of Marlene Dietrich and her life. There are flashbacks, including Dietrich’s very amusing audition for her breakout role as Lola Lola, a cabaret singer who caused the downfall of a hitherto respectable schoolmaster in the “The Blue Angel” directed by Josef von Sternberg. There is also an awkward interview with Dr Joseph Goebbels (voiced by Markus Napier) – the Reich Minister for Propaganda. The story proceeds through the war where Captain Dietrich is out entertaining the troops at the front line in Europe, seeing the horrors of war close up. She did so much work entertaining the troops that filmmaker Billy Wilder quipped that “she was at the front lines more than Eisenhower.

Dietrich was an enigmatic character in real life. Always playing a role and not necessarily enjoying it. As she once said “I had no desire to be a film actress, to always play somebody else, to be always beautiful with somebody constantly straightening out your every eyelash. It was always a big bother to me.” and yet she was a consummate actress, able to establish a sexual connection with just a look. Peter really shows these two sides of Dietrich off as she describes the mechanics behind producing what was considered the sexiest look in the movies at the time. But even more, Peter is Dietrich. I’ve spent some time watching Youtube clips of her performing and can give testament to how closely Peter’s performance matches the original. This is not a drag act, this is a talented performer paying homage to an icon.

For me, there were two problems with the show. I would have loved to see a live pianist – or even better a big band or orchestra – accompanying Marlene Dietrich as she went through a range of the lady’s songbook. My favourite was the spirited and highly emotional rendition of Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”. And my other problem, the show was just too short. At the end, I wanted so much more. To learn more about the lady behind the legend and to hear that unique voice giving its all once again.

Ultimately, Dietrich: Natural Duty is not just a show about Marlene Dietrich, it is Dietrich reborn and once more holding an audience in the palm of her hand with an amazing and uplifting performance about a most remarkable woman.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

It is 1942, on the battlefields of North Africa. In a gold sequin gown, Hollywood star Marlene Dietrich takes to the stage to launch her own offensive against the German Reich. For the next three years she would fight the war her way, with an irresistible mix of songs, sequins, sex and sympathy.
An intoxicating mix of theatre, cabaret and drag, this new one-(wo)man show by Peter Groom, was a total sell-out for VAULT Festival 2018 and received critical acclaim at the Edinburgh Fringe. It now transfers to Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley, London, E1 8JB, from Monday 19 to Saturday 24 November, before New York, Amsterdam and Adelaide as part of a world tour.

Wilton’s Music Hall
1 Graces Alley, Whitechapel, London E1 8JB

Suitable for ages 12+
19th November 2019 – 24th November 2018

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