The actor, dancer and choreographer spoke to Love London Love Culture about the world premiere of his show Dietrich- Natural Duty, playing as part of the Vault Festival…
Could you tell me a bit about Dietrich: Natural Duty and what audiences can expect?
Natural Duty is a one (wo)man cabaret exploring the life of Hollywood icon Marlene Dietrich. The show is a mix of theatre ,drag and cabaret and uses songs and stories to explore a legends extraordinary commitment to duty .
How did you come up with the concept for the show?
Dietrich has always intrigued me and in particular her cold, distant quality. Growing up I wasn’t attracted to any celebrities who were sweet and wholesome and had no desire to be sweet or cute myself. I was far too tall and gangly for that! So this woman who lurked behind cigarette smoke and seemingly didn’t care what people thought of her was very empowering to me .
I began to research her life and the more I found out the more I was intrigued by the contradictions that seem to define her life. And I think it’s these conflicts in who she is that make for a fascinating story .
Why did you pick Marlene Dietrich’s story as the basis for the show?
Although she is a legend there is something in her story that is very relatable – what is costs us to do the right thing.
Simply, it’s the story of a German girl who becomes a huge star in her homeland and America, and then her homeland becomes gripped by fascism and the rise of the Nazi’s , and she must choose between her home and what is right . She joins the American Army and fights against her homeland in order to free her people from Hitler. It’s a story of how far a person will go to fight for freedom despite the personal cost to them. We all want freedom but when it comes down to it what do we actually ‘do’ , what is our duty to the world?
As you were creating Dietrich: Natural Duty what did you find out about her life that particularly amazed or surprised you?
How many contradictions fill her life and seem to define her. She is on one hand incredibly mysterious and otherworldly and at the same time incredibly practical and addicted to cleanliness.
The German born American soldier, fighting her war with an American smile and Prussian discipline . Marching and fighting against her own country often at the front facing her cousins and family members as the enemy.
What do you personally admire the most about Marlene Dietrich?
Her sense of duty. She is formidable in her pursuit of what is right and often at tremendous personal cost . I think Dietrich’s story becomes more and more relevant in current times . She stood for freedom and she used her persona to fight evil and the fascism that gripped her homeland at the time. We don’t have to look far to draw parallels between what was happen politically in the 30’s and now! Yes she was glamorous and created an incredible icon but when it came down to it she turned the incredible power her fame gave her into a force for good . It’s a story of using whatever you have to fight for a better world .
What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show?
I hope people who Know her will come and perhaps leave with more of an idea of what lay behind her incredible Image, the extraordinary person underneath the glamour.
I hope people come who may have no idea of who she isand enjoy finding out about the incredible life of Dietrich and most of all have fun! Feel sexy , light, laugh and maybe cry a little too!
How much of her story were you aware of before coming up with the concept for the show?
I knew the basic plot of her life but the more I research the more I learn, even now 3 weeks before opening!
What I love is when people share their own stories of Dietrich that they may have from grandparents who may have met her or an aunt or uncle who waited for her at stage door . These personal connections really remind you she was a real person. I met a lady at a gig where I was performing as Marlene, who mentioned that she knew Marlene’s daughter and had inherited Marlene’s glass door knobs from her bedroom.We spent the whole night talking about Marlene. One week later we met again and she gave me the doorknobs! Now they are a treasured possession!
How would you sum up the show for potential audiences?
‘Songs, sequins, sex and sympathy’ – A cabaret that takes us from Weimar Berlin, through the golden age of Hollywood into WW2, a world on the edge of collapse and then back to Berlin where it all began.