Marlene Dietrich, Berlin born, became a Hollywood star when she was cast as ‘naughty Lola’ in The Blue Angel (1930). Renouncing her German citizenship when the Nazis took power, she enthusiastically threw herself behind the American war effort. When asked what motivated her to risk her life performing to soldiers on the front line, she said that she did so ‘out of decency’. It is this sense of decency which permeates Natural Duty.
Show creator Peter Groom plays Dietrich in drag, in which he offers a measured portrayal of the jaded, enigmatic performer, frequently breaking into German to bring authenticity to the role. Dressed in a glimmering, floor-length gown, and impeccably made-up, he brings ferocious dignity to her commentary and brilliant clarity to her songs, each of which is devastingly well chosen.
This is both a showcase for Dietrich's music and a bittersweet exploration of her life. What Groom and collaborator Oliver Gully have accomplished is to lift the veil of the past and perhaps allow us to experience Dietrich – her forceful opinions, her smouldering looks, her distinctive voice – as she would have been by her contemporaries. Every single choice is in service to the narrative about fame and celebrity on the one hand, mourning and loss on the other. As a result Natural Duty is enchanting, immensely enjoyable and profoundly touching.