Adelaide Fringe. Presented by Jimmy Jewell and Joanne Hartstone. Noel Lothian Hall, Botanic Gardens. 18 Feb 2019
Marlene lives again, or so one begins to think as one watches Peter Groom.
He has to be seen to be believed. Sublime is not an exaggeration for his performance in the Adelaide Fringe.
Groom is an English performer who has taken drag to a breathtaking theatrical high.
He steps onstage, tall and slender in slingback stilettos and an elegant golden sheath of evening dress on which delicate sparkling icicles shimmer as he moves. He does not resemble Dietrich. He “becomes” Dietrich. From beneath heavy lashes, he makes bold and sultry eye contact with his audience. Dietrich’s particular set of the mouth, that softly definite German accent, that slight thrust of the tongue; He has mastered every nuance.
The show is subtitled “Natural Duty” because Dietrich’s strong Teutonic sense of duty is thematic to it. It is a bio show in which Dietrich talks of her memories and her views, sometimes as links between songs and sometimes in response to the persistent questioning of an invisible journalist. The quizzical outsider is a clever device because it allows a range of emotional responses: feisty, indignant, and impatient; reactions not easily accommodated in a standard monologue. Thus is Groom’s Dietrich show a well-constructed theatre piece as well as a showcase for the impeccable impersonation.
The narrative begins with young Lena’s audition for The Blue Angel, the film which skyrocketed her to fame. She sings You're the Cream in my Coffee myriad times, Groom using the incident with a touch of humour to establish early the self-assured commanding core of his subject. He goes on to sing a repertoire of renowned Dietrich songs: Look Me Over Closely, Lily Marlene, Boys in the Back Room, and Falling in Love Again; imbuing each song with the languid come-on, the big tease, the double entendre characteristic of her seductive style. His every movement is carefully considered, slow, proud, graceful, sensual. Timing, timing, timing. Poise, poise, poise. Marlene would be honoured. Even more so were she to know of the political and personal qualities emphasised in this portrayal: her time as a Captain in the US armed forces, behind the lines in WWII wearing rough army drill instead of silken fashions; her uncompromising ethics; her fastidiousness; and her contempt for method acting.
This is a show as rich in knowledge and understanding as it is in uncanny talent. Groom makes no real attempt to feminise his voice. Marlene was a bisexual woman with limited vocal range. He taps right into the soul of her singing. And he taps into the soul of the audience, too. This hardened critic twice succumbed to tears, so beautifully heartfelt and percipient was his connection to her.
This is not just virtuoso performance, it is genius.
When: 18 Feb to 12 Mar
Where: Noel Lothian Hall, Botanic Gardens and Stirling Fringe, Stirling and Mt Barker