What would you give up for love? I know people that have given up their job, the family and their friends, even moving to another country all in the name of love. But few people would give up everything they have worked and been trained for since birth. However, in the early part of the twentieth century, one man did, and his story forms the backbone of Ron Elisha’s play Falling in Love Again at the King’s Head Theatre.
It is the 10th December 1936 and King Edward VIII (Ashton Spear) is in his study contemplating his future. Tomorrow he is due to sign the Act of Abdication, renouncing his throne forever. Tonight though, he is still king and, because of this, he has an unexpected but very welcome visitor to his Fort Belvedere home. The visitor is Hollywood screen goddess Marlene Dietrich (Ramona Von Pusch) who has taken a break from filming in London and come to see the King with one thought in mind – to persuade him not to abdicate. Through the course of one night, the two people – internationally famous from two different worlds – talk, flirt and, just maybe, learn more about each other than they should.
The timing of Falling in Love Again could not have been more perfect. The story of a senior royal being pursued and hounded out of their role by the press and the establishment simply because of falling in love with the ‘wrong’ person is as relevant in 2020 as it was in 1936. Playwright Ron Elisha says that the play is based on a real event, and it is true that Marlene did go to see Edward while she was filming Knight Without Armour, much to the chagrin of her co-star and boyfriend, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Whether the two actually met is a moot point but, I think Ron has put together a very believable account of what may have occurred that December night. The writing presents an interesting take on the Edward/Mrs Simpson saga and, I think, quite an insight into Edward’s personality. This is a man born into a family where duty was the accepted modus operandi, but he decided to put himself first. Was this because of his love for Wallace or was there something deeper within him that made him act in, what many still consider, a very selfish manner? We will never know for sure, but the clues are there – the story of the gold sovereign in particular speaks volumes. One really minor point of protocol, according to Debretts, the monarch is never referred to as ‘your royal highness’ but always as ‘your majesty’ or ‘sir’. It’s a small point but it was one that I noticed and that stayed with me.
Good writing goes hand in hand with good acting in this play. Both Ashton and Ramona are really great in their roles of Edward and Marlene respectively. Ashton has got Edward’s voice and, from what I’ve seen in archive film of the time, mannerisms nicely pegged and, Ramona really inhabits Marlene. Her accent, a gentle blend of German and American, is there and every movement she makes is both purposeful and extremely sensual. And, although I’m not sure who is responsible, I have nothing but praise to give to the costume designer for Marlene’s wonderful, outfits throughout the show that were very evocative of the time. My favourite moment of the show was the final scene. Without going into too much detail, I was on Spotify and YouTube this morning recreating the last scene and I have to say, both actors absolutely nailed their characters in that moment.
Director Tama Matheson makes good use of the stage and keeps everything moving nicely, although the thrust stage does occasionally cause sightline problems. Jen Watson’s lighting and Andy Divers’ sound add to the atmosphere along with the lovely Chaise, really take us back to the 1930s.
Overall, my initial impression of Falling in Love Again was good and, as I’ve thought about it overnight and this morning, my opinion has not wavered – if anything it’s got stronger. This is an impressive take on a turbulent period of history that, 84 years later, still feels very relevant.
Review by Terry Eastham
When the King of England met the Queen of Hollywood…
It’s 1936. King Edward’s about to abdicate. Hollywood starlet Marlene Dietrich wants to stop him.
With a deft charm and a wicked wit, Ron Elisha, author of the smash-hit The Soul of Wittgenstein (‘scintillating, subtle and intense’ London Theatre 1), pits love against duty in the ultimate meeting of the minds.
Brought to the stage by director Tama Matheson, this is an unmissable evening of sheer entertainment.
Cast & Creatives
Ashton Spear – King Edward VIII
Ramona Von Pusch – Marlene Dietrich
Ron Elisha – Writer
Tama Matheson – Director
Falling In Love Again
14 January – 8 February 2020