St James Beds Marlene Dietrich
Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆
The coffin will be draped in the Tricolore (by Dior). She'll be buried next to the Unknown Soldier. Guests will wear either a red carnation (if they slept with her) or a white one (if they didn't). Such is Marlene Dietrich's fantasy of her own funeral. Except: the Teutonic movie star is in her twilight years. And to get a funeral like that, she really needed to die a while back.
Now, bed-bound in a festering Paris apartment, Dietrich (Elizabeth Counsell) cuts a sorry, mussed up figure — albeit one with a direct line to 'Ronnie' in the White House, who she occasionally rings to kill time. Her self-indulgent loneliness is interrupted by long-suffering daughter Marie (Moira Brooker), who arrives to air her mother's dirty laundry — in both senses. Unsavoury truths behind her unctuous onscreen persona are soon unravelling at a rate of knots.
St James Theatre's Icon Season began with its claws out, and while Miss Dietrich Regrets doesn't involve THAT level of cattiness between the two leads, in Dietrich, the diva factor is very much ramped up to 11. Counsell's portrayal of the prickly Dietrich pulls no punches — she revels in the scores of men and women she bedded (many of them celebs), curses her porcelain-delicate legs, and pooh-poohs her despicable treatment of those closest to her.
Maria is the voice of reason — Dietrich's good conscience who can never quite get through to her. As the questions come thick and fast (Why did her mother leave her in the care of a rapist? Why did she drive her husband's lover to madness?), Dietrich stubbornly bats them away like impudent questions from the press. We're left in no doubt Maria's accusations are mostly true, yet it's impossible not to warm to her ice queen of a mother. That's thanks to both Gail Louw's witty script and Counsell's accomplished performance.
The play is the antithesis of those glossy silver screen pictures of yore. It's gritty, sordid, and there's no happily ever after. Okay, it's hardly going to set the world alight with fresh intrigue and scandal, neither is there anything massively original about its staging. But Miss Dietrich Regrets does provide a rare opportunity to witness the monster behind the Max Factor. Even if it's no surprise that Miss Dietrich went to her grave regretting very little.
Miss Dietrich Regrets is on at St James Theatre, 12 Palace Street, SW1E 5JA, until 25 January. Tickets £17.50-£20 (£12 concessions). Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 22 January 2015