It would probably be more apt to describe Peter Groom as an illusionist rather than a drag queen. As explained in no uncertain terms in Dietrich: Natural Duty, the Marlene we saw live on stage was an illusion. She was a creature of the cinema made flesh and successfully toured the international cabaret circuit for more than 20 years.
Groom succinctly captures the essence of Dietrich’s manufacture – the dead-eye, the pencil-thin brows and the carefully structured wig. The shimmer of Kathleen Nellis’ gown adds to the illusion, but vitally Groom also captures Dietrich’s spirit.
The play interrupts a Dietrich cabaret with an interview about her early career, with an emphasis on the rift with her homeland during the Second World War. Dietrich cared passionately about Germany but loathed the Nazi regime. When Berlin fell in 1945 she was entertaining the troops at the front and witnessed first-hand the demoralising effect the war had had on her homeland.
Beneath the lipstick and powder, Groom articulates the horrors of the war and captures its brutal devastation with Pete Seeger’s Where Have All The Flowers Gone?
Dietrich’s colourful private life may be studiously overlooked, but this period is explored with honesty, humour and class.