Review By Theodora Galanis
A perfectly poised woman saunters on stage in a shimmering glass-beaded dress. Her stiffly coiffed strawberry blonde hair sits above two thinly arched eyebrows: an iconic image of classic beauty, standing alone on the sparsely decorated stage.
Peter Groom performs as Marlene Dietrich in Jimmy Jewell and Hartstone-Kitney’s production of Dietrich: A Natural Duty at the Black Box Theatre.
A Natural Duty pays homage to Dietrich, the German-American star of the silver screen. The acclaimed actress and singer had a career spanning over seventy years from the 1910s to the 1980s, performing in films like The Blue Angel (1930) and Morocco (1930). Dietrich is most notably remembered for her humanitarian efforts during World War Two. In an effort to boost soldier morale, she toured and performed for Allied troops in Germany, for which she received various international honours.
Co-written by Groom and the show’s director, Oliver Gully, A Natural Duty takes us to the frontline in 1942 as Dietrich recounts her fight against the war through music and art.
Graduating from Guildford School of Acting in 2013, Groom is an actor, dancer and choreographer working predominately with dance and theatre. In this one (wo)man show, Groom’s talent shines as he carries the audience through this intimate tale of glamour and heartbreak.
Like Dietrich’s famously limited contralto vocal range, Groom voice sits at a slightly lower register and therefore perfectly sweeps through the songs with a delicate breathlessness. The score is comprised of the best of Dietrich’s repertoire, including “Falling in Love Again” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”.
Groom commands the stage as much with his vocals, as with his physical presence. He carries his body with a dancer’s grace, as each limb elegantly lands in a statuesque pose while talking, walking, and singing. He masterfully conveys Dietrich’s on-stage charisma: a woman known to be wonderfully strong-minded and a little naughty. With a fluttery wink and a sweet smile, Groom peppers his performance with cheeky innuendoes – getting away with each one. At the same time, Groom manages to create a pensive and melancholic mood, emphasising the sombre tone of a world on the brink of collapse.
Costume designer, Kathleen Nellis, takes inspiration from one of Dietrich’s most iconic outfits: a floor length, almost-sheer, gold sequined gown. Originally designed by Jean Louis in 1956 for Dietrich’s residency at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, the adapted gown looks dazzling on Groom, styled with a diamond choker and nude pumps.
A Natural Duty is an intelligent and playful tribute to the Hollywood legend. The sophisticated script and captivating performance honour the complexities of Dietrich’s onstage persona and offstage character. Awarded the 2019 Weekly Award at the Adelaide Fringe, and with international critical acclaim, A Natural Duty is a fringe must-see.
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