THEATRE: She's a drag act

Marlene Lyric Shaftesbury, London

They were demons for hygiene, those screen goddesses. Take Joan Crawford - never happier than when on her knees scouring away. And now in Pam Gems's Marlene, virtually the first thing the teutonic legend does is don a pair of rubber gloves and set to work with a will on her dressing- room floor, using her fur coat as a mat. She also hoovers the place and then sweeps the stage; the only surprise is that she isn't out in the bar during the interval furiously polishing the glasses. You can say what you like about Dietrich and her war record (comforting the troops individually as well as en masse on the grounds that they could then die happy), but, by God, you couldn't fault her surfaces.

And it's on these surfaces that we mostly remain in this sketchy, predictable, lazily assembled, and, to be honest, really rather enjoyable piece which gives us a life-in-the-day-of look at Dietrich in the 1970s as she prepares for and then performs one of her celebrated solo concerts at a Paris theatre. Directed by Sean Mathias, the show is as near to being a one-woman vehicle for the excellent Sian Phillips as is consistent with having a cast of three. The other characters are Mutti (Billy Mathias), an elderly, totally silent dresser, a sort of Madge to Dietrich's Dame Edna, who does next to nothing but pad sorrowfully off when things like masturbation or the death camps are mentioned, and a barely more fleshed-out Vivian Hoffman (Lou Gish), a young woman in a man's suit who is there to show us that Marlene swung every which way.

What everyone is waiting for, of course, is the climactic concert, and when it finally arrives it does not disappoint. The Taj Mahal bathed in moonlight is scarcely less majestic a monument than Phillips's cheekbone- flaunting Dietrich under Mark Johnson's von Sternberg-esque lighting, swathed in that shimmering pounds 15,000 sheath of a frock. The curious thing is that she seems more real as the icon than she did as the woman behind it. Projecting Dietrich's imperious, poised allure and ironic minimalism, Phillips delivers the goods ("Lilli Marlene", a "Where Have all the Flowers Gone?" that's like a brilliantly shaded and moving five-act play, etc) in a husky baritone that sounds rather better than the "duck shoot on a saltmarsh in Siberia" to which she likens it. The house is driven wild, but at what precisely? "I don't ask you who you were applauding - the legend, the performer, or me," Dietrich once told an audience. Who Phillips's audience is cheering to the rafters is an even trickier question.

Before this, backstage, we see Marlene the impossible but wonderful superstar; Marlene the touring exile turned on as traitor by her own disgraced compatriots; Marlene the Junker's daughter, who palpitates with nerves but is too proud to take tranquillisers; Marlene the seasoned, shrugging bitch (marvelling that a friend can be on to her sixth husband since "she looks like Joan Crawford after two hours of root-canal work"); and Marlene the perfectionist who stage-manages every moment of her shows, right down to the spontaneous floral tributes. The supposedly serious parts are quite as camp and as cliched as the comic ones. But the public's appetite for entertainments which effectively make drag acts of legendary females can't be overestimated. Watch out for Tallulah (about la Bankhead) at Chichester and the Callas play Masterclass soon to open just up the road from Marlene.

To 21 June. Booking: 0171-494 5045

Paul Taylor

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower