Thursday, 22 November 2018

Dietrich: Natural Duty @ Wilton's Music Hall

Dietrich: Natural Duty @ Wilton's Music Hall

So many heroes and heroines have been torn between love, romance, career and freedom, and a sense of duty - duty to family, morals or, in the case of Marlene Dietrich, to her country. Born in Berlin in 1901, the actress had a highly successful Hollywood career but renounced her German citizenship during World War II to join the American army, entertaining GIs with her cabaret performances. It's an extraordinary story that's captured here by Peter Groom in his one (wo)man drag show.

As a performer, Dietrich was a provocative figure who blurred the boundaries of gender. Her film roles were often sexually charged femme fatales, while on stage she would perform songs typically associated with men wearing top hat and tails. This translates wonderfully to Groom in drag, taking that exploration of gender a step further.

He certainly looks stunning and he encapsulates a coy girlish sexuality, expertly mimicking Dietrich's slow and seductive looks. He reflects a heightened femininity, just as she did, with a tongue in cheek, sexually liberated humour that is nonetheless poised and classy throughout.

The show itself mixes drag with cabaret and song, taking us from Hollywood starlet to wartime heroine. Groom never breaks character, presenting a sort of cabaret show within a cabaret show, his high fluttering voice and free, staccato delivery enchanting from song to song. In these moments of pure performance, he is utterly captivating.

Yet Dietrich's inner turmoil as she battles between duty to her country and a love of filmmaking is perhaps too subtly underplayed, Groom cutting a dignified stage presence that rarely breaks into relatable humanity. This is countered by the disembodied voice of a journalist asking questions during her show, a needless and forced way of pushing the narrative on that breaks the cabaret illusion.

Groom looks every bit the glamorous diva and his performance is touching. Dietrich: Natural Duty may be as featherlight as his voice, but there's just enough here to make you think.


Watch: Dietrich: Natural Duty runs at the Wilton's Music Hall until 24th November as part of the show's world tour.

Dietrich: Natural Duty @ Wilton's Music Hall
Photos: Monir El Haimar