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Miss Dietrich Regrets at Cumberland Lodge, Windsor Great Park

Published by: Clare Brotherwood on 5th Oct 2015 | View all blogs by Clare Brotherwood

Gail Louw’s remarkable account of Marlene Dietrich’s last days is heart rending in so many ways. It presents one of Hollywood’s most iconic stars as a sad, scared, lonely old woman, and her daughter as confused, abused, angry but still caring. Its inclusion in the Windsor Festival also marked the final performance of a show which had been produced and directed by Tony Milner, who died this summer.

He can rest in peace knowing that it will always be greatly lauded.

Marlene Dietrich spent the last 11 years of her life in bed, relying increasingly on her daughter Maria. In this play their relationship is explored in a poignant and revealing two-hander set in and around a large, untidy bed - which makes Tracey Emin’s (questionable) work of art look almost neat - from which Dietrich conducts her life.

Elizabeth Counsell, with unkempt hair and smudged make-up, and wearing only a nightdress, is magnificent in the title role; it can’t be easy delivering lines while sitting in a bed, legs outstretched for almost two hours, but with apparent ease she trips from Dietrich’s deep throaty growl to the lisping, childlike voice she uses on the phone when warding off prospective visitors. In addition, her authentic renderings of Dietrich’s most famous songs also single her out as a masterful impersonator.

Louw’s play not only gives us an insight into the private life of a great actress, however. Liberally sprinkled with fascinating tales of Dietrich and her many lovers, in Counsell’s skilful hands we see how cruel old age can be, especially for someone who had lived such a glamorous life and who was famous for her ‘eternal youthfulness’. It is especially sad when Maria tries to entice the increasingly reclusive star into a nursing home, telling her how she would be looked after. Dietrich can only think that she would not be looked after but looked at.

Beside her manipulative, alcoholic but vulnerable mother, Maria appears strong and grounded. But during the play we hear of her life as the daughter of a promiscuous bisexual whose parenting seemed to be an afterthought. And yet, Moira Brooker not only convinces us of her anger, hurt and frustration but also of her passion and warmth.



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