Marlene, Eye

Although sparsely attended, the opening night of the British and European premiere of Marlene at Eye Theatre provided scintillating entertainment.

By JANET CHAMBERS

Although sparsely attended, the opening night of the British and European premiere of Marlene at Eye Theatre provided scintillating entertainment.

The play about the legendary Hollywood star Marlene Dietrich, written by Kevin Land, was performed seven years ago in Canada and has never been seen outside that country.

The Teutonic blonde with the guttural voice, come-hither eyes and million dollar legs might not have been everyone's favourite singer, but there is no doubt that Dietrich shot to stardom with the help of film director Josef Von Sternberg.

In the play we see flashbacks of Marlene's life – from her first audition as a young girl reluctant to sing “a naughty song” through the war years, when she refuses to consider becoming Hitler's mistress, to her disillusioned old age. Attempting to uncover the mysteries of this complex character is Sam Visser, a journalist who is trying to write her biography. His letters requesting to interview her are ignored until, one day, he receives a phone call and their meeting changes Marlene's perception of what she described as “the gutter press”.

The play ends with one of her concert performances with the familiar songs made popular in the Thirties and Forties, including the evergreen Lilli Marlene. Director Tom Scott could not have chosen a better cast. Martina Mars shows that she has the looks, figure, personality and voice to fit the unique Dietrich character, one moment revelling in her notoriety and the next scornful of Hollywood and all it stood for. One of the finest moments was when she was being grilled at a press conference, her pungent wit and scornful repartee quelling the most hardened journalist.

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Making his 20th appearance at Eye, Richard Mainwaring once again shows his versatility in a variety of roles including Visser, the journalist with a heart; Sternberg, the film director; Rudi, Marlene's husband; Ribbentrop, the Nazi diplomat; and Kreuder, the musical director. With no time for changes of clothing the actor had to work doubly hard to switch parts, constantly changing accents. Pianist Simon Frewin, who carried out the musical direction and arrangement, was also called upon to fill a number of minor roles.

The Eye Theatre proved an ideal venue for this type of cabaret entertainment – book early if you want the front row tables.

t Marlene plays until Saturday October 20.

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