A poignant look at Marlene Dietrich

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Miss Dietrich Regrets, Devonshire Park 
Theatre, Eastbourne, 
Friday, April 10

Collaborations between Eastbourne Theatres and Brighton-based New Vic Productions are going from strength to strength.

Following hard on the heels of playwright Gail Louw’s and director Tony Milner’s successful Duwayne, and Shackleton’s Carpenter, this latest production once again focuses on intriguing aspects of something, or someone, we think we already know all about.

Marlene Dietrich, born in Berlin in 1901, was unquestionably a showbusiness icon of the twentieth century.

Whether her name now means much to those born in the nineties and noughties, is questionable.

The play is set in her apartment in Paris in 1981 where she spent the last years of her life, most of it in bed, and insisted she would die.

She lived until aged 90.

Based on the book Marlene Dietrich written by her daughter, Maria Riva, published after her death, Gail’s illuminating and pitch-perfect dialogue dissects the highs and lows of Marlene’s life from 1920s film star to 1970s cabaret idol. This includes her bisexuality, refusal to join the Nazi party, adoption of American citizenship, unfettered promiscuity and legions of lovers from Hollywood movie stars to US Presidents.

Somehow the detritus of an ageing, once glamorous woman – dirty washing, piles of empty liquor bottles, stained sheets, recordings of her songs and the china water pitcher she uses under the bed covers as a chamber pot emptied into a plastic bin – point up the sadness and cruelty of old age, and the relationship we have, or don’t have, with our children.

Marlene is played by Elizabeth Counsell, and Maria, her daughter, by Moira Brooker, both talented and experienced actresses.

Elizabeth nervously wrapping a flimsy shawl over her nightdress, but still proud of her sexuality as she pours herself another bourbon or swallows more pills; Moira wearily matter-of-fact, one moment reduced to tears, the next comforting her mother and planning the future.

These are outstanding and heartfelt performances. Songs ‘Falling In Love Again’ and ‘Lili Marlene’ surface occasionally to enhance a sense of time remembered.

Regrets will be suffered by anyone not able to catch this riveting production.