THEATRE Marlene Oldham Coliseum

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The Independent Culture
Did you ever see a dream vacuum cleaner? Well, I did. Last week, at the Oldham Coliseum. Marlene Dietrich in rubber gloves, vacuuming away, all fur coat and two dusters - not just an angel but a treasure as well. You could have knocked me down with a squirt of Mr Sheen.

And what does she do as she goes? Why, the same as everybody else. She talks to herself and sings. She talks about how famous she is and how she became a film star with this Josef von Sternberg who people said was only after her dusters and how airlines always lose your luggage and hotels thoughtlessly give the penthouse to the President of the World Bank and his entourage, and we know before she tells us who that means. And then the phone rings, just like at home, and she wags on to a newly-divorced friend who's "lost the will to shop" and then chats to herself some more about Jack Kennedy's back and we think "did she really?" and then she remembers poor Ernest Hemingway and sings a very sad song to his photo and it's time for a drink.

In the interval we wonder about a babushka-like character called Mutti who looks as if she should be doing the cleaning but doesn't do or say anything. Is she Marlene's mutti? Or the director's? Surely not. Maybe she'll suddenly gabble for five minutes like the unfortunate whatsisname in that other play where nothing happens.

"Act" 2. Out front now, "Lights". This is more like it. The rubber gloves were neat, "the woman behind the..." and all that, but we came to fall in love again with Lili Marlene and Honeysuckle Rose. Though what's with this personal assistant character, Viv, with her man's suit and her cheroots? Hmmm. But she (Lou Gish) is never in it for two minutes together, so who knows?

At last. And isn't Sian Phillips Marlene to the life? The hair, the face, the voice, the dress - yes, especially the dress, which is definitely not the sort you'd ever cut up for dusters. It's a brilliant impersonation, and we also know that she knows that we know how knowing she is playing the yet-more-knowing Dietrich.

But what is it all for? It's like a perfectly detailed model of the Tirpitz made out of paper-clips - we admire it, but why do it? Phillips can clearly deliver a torch-song, but why not do so as Sian Phillips? Pam Gems's script looks as if it might be off-cuts from her earlier play, The Blue Angel, with many sharp phrases but no dramatic creation at all. Its purpose is to fill in while we wait for the songs. But all this is just looking for dust, and we all know that, after a bit, you stop noticing.

The audience loved it.

To 26 Oct (booking: 0161-624-2829); then touring

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