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Review: Dietrich: Natural Duty at Noel Lothian Hall

By Carly Fisher

The lights go up and Marlene Dietrich stands before us in a floor length, completely bedazzled evening gown with perfectly poofed blond hair and a face full of make up. Nothing has started yet but already we are intrigued – she looks expensive, she looks like a veteran on stage and yet, from as early as that first glance, she looks desperately sad.

Co-writer and performer, Peter Groom takes on the role of Marlene in this one “(wo)man” show ‘Dietrich: Natural Duty’ playing at the Noel Lothian Hall in Adelaide’s Botanic Garden as part of the Fringe Festival. The set is simple – the bare black stage curtains are exposed, a single black microphone takes centre stage and a small round table with a wooden chair and a vase full of stunning roses occupies Stage Left.

As a performer, Groom excels – he has obviously put a lot of work into mastering this character (ironic as Dietrich makes a joke during the show about actors who become their characters…’I hate them’ she says) and takes her on with poise, with grace and with respect to the difficulty of her life. As a big musical theatre fan, I couldn’t help but wish to hear Groom take on more – moments during the songs suggested that a big voice lies beneath the wig and jewels and I was dying to hear more! Yet, irrespective of what Groom may be capable of as a performer, he keeps this character very refined and plays hard into her as an accidental (but always classy) sex symbol.

The war history was interesting – particularly hearing about her involvement and her own tour of duty – even as a performer, duty during the second world war was traumatizing and tragic. For this history nerd, that kept me engaged.

Unfortunately, in trying to best represent her charm and grace, the show was slow. It is true that Dietrich moved, sang and spoke slowly and whilst I appreciate that this proved a mastering of characterisation, the one hour show dragged because of it. This is not to suggest that he should change the characterisation. Instead, perhaps some larger songs could be added to the repertoire to change the intensity of moments of the show and to allow us to see what Groom may truly be capable of (and perhaps what Dietrich was capable of too).

What is the Fringe Festivals greatest achievement – that hundreds of shows are successfully programmed around the city in a very short window of time – here was a detriment to this production as the audience – with space for what appeared to be an easy 100 guests – comprised of only 15 people.

Groom masters Dietrich and the performance of ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone’ towards the end of the show is worth seeing the show for alone – it is so true to the original (Youtube confirmed) and is absolutely heart breaking – especially once you have heard her story.

If you are a fan of Marlene Dietrich, this show is for you.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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