Falling In Love With Dietrich Again

Jason Reid chats to the star of a new one (wo)man show dedicated to smoky cabaret legend, Marlene Dietrich

A true icon in every sense of the word, Marlene Dietrich was one of Hollywood’s brightest and most charismatic stars in the early part of the 21st century, and the most famous German woman in the world – arguably to this day. 

Dietrich: Natural Duty is the new show premiering this month at the Vault Festival, mixing drag, theatre and the unmistakable musical stylings of Marlene Dietrich. This week, Jason Reid spoke to the star of the show, Peter Groom…

Hi Peter, for those who aren’t aware of who Marlene Dietrich was and what she stood for, how would you sum her up?

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Marlene Dietrich was a German actress and film star. She had a long career from the early 30s, performing until the late 70s. She became an icon and stood for an androgynous sexuality that was both dangerous and sensual.

What can we expect from this new show?

It’s a one (wo)man cabaret exploring the life of a Hollywood icon. The show is a mix of theatre, drag and cabaret and uses songs and stories to explore a legends’ extraordinary commitment to duty.

As you are that one (wo)man, you’ll be channelling the essence of Dietrich. Have you found that a daunting task or is it easily tapped into? 

It’s a lot to live up to! But it has been fun playing with the power that she had to command an audience. Also to explore the Dietrich underneath the beads and make-up; to explore who she may have been when she was alone and not being watched. 

What, in particular, do you like about her music and performance stylings? 

How laid back she was, or seemed to be. She almost shrugged off the glamour and underplayed a lot of her songs – often not moving very much at all. With Dietrich, less was definitely more.

What do you think her greatest achievement was?

I think it had to be her contribution during World War Two. She said of it: ‘It’s the only important thing I’ve ever done’. She was formidable in her pursuit of what’s right and often at tremendous personal cost. I think Dietrich’s story becomes more and more relevant in current times. She stood for freedom and she used her persona to fight evil and the fascism that gripped her homeland at the time.

Indeed. There are a few pertinent societal similarities between Dietrich’s time and today. For example: women challenging the status quo and putting their head above the parapet in order to bring about change. Would you agree?  

Absolutely. We don’t have to look far to draw parallels between what was happening politically in the 30’s and now. Yes, she was glamorous and created an incredible icon but when it came down to it, Dietrich turned the incredible power her fame gave her into a force for good. It’s a story of using whatever you have to fight for a better world.

Do you have a favourite Dietrich number, one that really speaks to you? 

I think it has to be ‘Falling In Love Again’ – the more I sing it the more I find in those words: ‘I was made that way, I can’t help it’.

Dietrich: Natural Duty plays at the Vault Festival, Leake Street, SE1 7NN, from Weds 24th – Sat 28th January.

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