Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Review • LUNCH WITH MARLENE • New End Theatre • 2008

Photo: Mike Lawn / Rex Features

Photo: Mike Lawn / Rex Features

Whenever I visit the V&A I always, and I do mean always, have to walk round my favourite section of the Museum. It is the part that houses the wayward children of any museum’s collection; the Fakes, Forgeries and Plaster Cast copies of ancient originals.

Looking at any piece of antiquity can be a wonderful experience. But there is a delightfully dubious twist to this experience when the particular piece you are viewing is a finely crafted fake. Or even, in the V&A’s case, when the plaster copy you are standing in front of is Michelangelo’s David or Trajan’s Column (in two halves) from Rome’s Forum.

The sensation is made up of some weird blend of appreciating the skill of the workmanship, being staggered by the work involved, dazed by the folly of it all and titillated by the sheer naughtiness of daring to make a Copy. It is reverence for the irreverent.

It is a special sensation and one I thought I would only ever find in the environs of South Kensington but, lo and behold, its theatrical equivalent has made an appearance at the New End Theatre in Hampstead during a performance of Lunch With Marlene.

This new play and cabaret is the creation of writer Chris Burgess, who has concocted a gloriously entertaining evening out of the private and public faces of Marlene Dietrich and Noël Coward. These two notorious superstars of the twentieth century were very old friends and regularly met all over the world for dinner and a chat. Act One at the New End focuses on a fictionalised version of one such meeting in a London restaurant in the late 1960s.

Burgess wisely starts the play off with a healthy slice of Coward-esque humour which instantly relaxes the audience and paves the way for the arrival of Marlene. Noël’s vocal flamboyance is the perfect balance to Marlene’s more stringent and staccato vocabulary and the unusual dynamics of their cut and thrust conversation are enthralling. When they bicker, as only old friends of a pensionable age can do, it is hilarious.

But Burgess manages to quite believably deepen their conversation and to take these two icons back into the more serious and intimate parts of their lives. So along with all the showbiz champagne, you get the bitters of Dietrich’s lost homeland, her privations and perils when entertaining the troops of the Second World War and her intimate description of the horrors of Belsen.

After the interval, Burgess pushes his play even further into the realms of fiction by creating a two-handed cabaret show-that-never-was for Marlene and Noël. In lesser hands, this would have been an idea too far but Burgess has cunningly laid a lot of the groundwork for this cabaret in the first half lunch conversation. Songs that we have heard discussed at lunch are included in the cabaret repertoire and some conversational topics are revisited or even parodied in song form.

Lunch With Marlene is ultimately a craftily devised piece of theatrical fakery. The second half could so easily have been an optional add-on extra – the cream in the coffee, so to speak. But when the first half allows you to ‘meet’ these two icons off-stage with their professional guards down, it suddenly becomes so easy to believe, in the second half, that you are watching the real Coward and Dietrich perform. Strangely, even the canned applause that is piped over the sound system at the start and end of each song manages to contribute to this illusion. It is real and fake at one and the same time.

Performance-wise Lunch With Marlene cannot get any better. Kate O’Mara and Frank Barrie are both exceptional in their roles. Barrie is vocally the quintessential Coward and drops the bon mots and acid drops with style and aplomb. It is hard to get laughs with such a familiar song as ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ but this performer manages it with ease.

O’Mara’s Marlene is a remarkable creation which manages to be part physical recreation, part vocal impression and part illusion while being wholly believable. Her lunchtime Dietrich moves from irascible old Valkyrie to a frightened and vulnerable woman with perfect ease. But her cabaret Marlene bristles with a steely sexuality that summons the audience to ‘come hither’ with just a wave of the hand and then stands them to attention with the most pianissimo of cat-lady purrs. Whatever the ‘Boys in the Back Room’ are having, we want it too.

Lunch With Marlene may have just spoiled my future visits to South Kensington. Silent and motionless copies of gods and goddesses will never have quite the same allure now. I will always be wanting the ones that speak, sing and dance.

The V&A will certainly have to up its game.

Jack Hughes © 2008

Originally published on R&V 02-04-08

One comment on “Archive Review • LUNCH WITH MARLENE • New End Theatre • 2008

  1. beetleypete
    03/22/2017

    I would have imagined that Kate O’Mara would be perfect in that role. She has ‘the look’.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Information

This entry was posted on 03/21/2017 by in Reviews, Theatre and tagged , , , , , , .
Enogastronomista

Food & Wine

Coffee fuels my photography!

~ my everyday life through the lens of my camera ~

Polly's Paper Studio

Vintage Inspired Paper Crafts & Digital Design

Robin King

I make faces.

Life on La Lune

A journey through life in Southwest France

Vanessa Couchman

Historical Fiction with a French Flavour

Disability & Determination

It isn't being John Malkovich, but it is being me

Nicholas Andriani

Dispatches from the Crossroads of Culture, Language, & Educational Technology

Joe Ruggiero at Home

Daily Reflections from My Home and Garden

Mitch Teemley

The Power of Story

Genealogy Jude

Unlocking the Door to Your Past

Jack Monroe

The #1 budget recipe website

Stevie Turner

Realist, writer, reader and reviewer, and rocker.

The Stuff They Won't Include in Any Tourist Guide: The Real England

The Real England is a concise, direct, and not-so-gentle window into the depths of the leftovers of the world’s once greatest empire. It is told from the perspective of one lone (or not so lone) long term visitor. It informs one of the dregs of the country and helps to explain quaint British oddities such as the crack addicted chav.

Postcards from

home and away...

S.O.U.L. S-P-A-C-E

Artists, Writers and Visionaries Blog on the Unique and Ordinary

The Lady Sews

Collected works and other excuses from a textile obssessive

coelsblog

Defending Scientism

@KellyOSullivan

has random thoughts

Criminal Historian

Working with dead people

Jemsbooks

Writing - Loving What I Do and Doing What I Love!

Noir

the darker side to sedge808

Off Center & Not Even

Photographs, music and writing about daily life. Contact: elcheo@swcp.com

Reina Cottier Art

Creative Intuitive from New Zealand

Tenafly Road

Family Saga Fiction by Adrienne Morris

johnrieber

Burgers, Books, Music, Movies, Offbeat Adventures & Pop Culture!

Etan Smallman

Freelance journalist

Assemblage Art

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

Candia Comes Clean

Candid cultural comments from the Isles of Wonder

blackwings666

Horror, Science Fiction, Comic Books and More

The Wandering Empath

Traveling the World Through Others

I didn't have my glasses on....

A trip through life with fingers crossed and eternal optimism.

penwithlit

Art, Literature, Poetry, Politics and a little History

Jet Eliot

Travel and Wildlife Adventures

Judith Barrow

Writer & Author

Sophia Riley Kobacker

it's all about the story, possums...

Tropical Affair

Observations of the illusion through the eyes of wonder...

Doodlewash®

Adventures in Watercolor Painting and Sketching, Watercolour Magazine, with Charlie O'Shields

Luanne Castle's Writer Site

Memoir, poetry, & writing theory

Life in Russia

The Bridge between two countries

London Life With Liz

A lifestyle blog with a little bit of everything.

Brotherly Love

A personal exploration of autism from a brother’s perspective, including family relationships, philosophy, neuroscience, mental health history and ethics

%d bloggers like this: