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Lunch With Marlene

Published Wednesday 9 April 2008 at 12:40 by Paul Vale

London in the late sixties and superstar Marlene Dietrich has already spent the generous advance for her autobiography without having written anything. In desperation she calls on her old friend Noel Coward to offer some practical advice.

Chris Burgess’ short play may lack depth, but the plot device gives each character an opportunity to give a fairly unexpurgated history of their private lives. Plot aside, the dialogue is in turn fascinating and hysterical with Burgess eschewing epigrammatic cliche for humanist sentiment. Essentially this becomes the story of two old duffers struggling to uphold the glamorous lives they had created for themselves.

The casting here is impeccable with Frank Barrie revelling in the role of Coward, eyeing up the waiter and taking no nonsense from his lunch guest. Kate O’Mara is simply perfect as Dietrich, every inch the celebrity and yet deliciously raw. Coward recommended that Dietrich hit the cabaret circuit as her film star began to fade, so the second half provides us with a dream cabaret with a few of the couple’s best loved numbers, beautifully arranged by Neil MacDonald.

Barrie as Coward gleefully attacks Mad Dogs and Englishmen then wickedly invites Dietrich to join him with Don’t Lets Be Beastly To The Germans. O’Mara gets her revenge with a raucous Boys In The Backroom, and the emotive Where Have All The Flowers Gone? and the Dietrich standard, Falling In Love Again.

Use of canned applause during the cabaret is a little unnecessary and some of Stewart Nicholls’ direction lacked intimacy, but on the whole this piece is a remarkable success sparkling with a wit that Coward himself might be proud of.

Production information

New End, London, March 28-April 27

Chris Burgess
Stewart Nicholls
New End Theatre
Kate O'Mara, Frank Barrie, Neil MacDonald
Running time:

Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.

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Run sheet

King's Head, Islington London
January 24-February 15 2014