Marlene Dietrich’s private life was kept relatively secret while she was still alive, but her numerous affairs with both men and women were revealed after her death. Another revelation to surface was that Dietrich was so concerned about the abdication of Edward VIII that she offered to seduce him, in an attempt to end his relationship with Wallis Simpson once and for all. History tells us the plan didn’t work, but the world premiere of Ron Elisha’s Falling In Love Again at The King’s Head Theatre imagines a meeting between the King of England and the Queen of Hollywood on the night before the instrument of abdication is signed.
Directed by Tama Matheson, this two-hander initially seems like a timely revisit to Royal affairs, with two senior members of the Royal family preparing to walk away from their duties, can the past offer an insight to the current constitutional crisis? Perhaps, but Falling In Love Again is unlikely to be the play that delivers it.
Dietrich’s evening at Fort Belvedere is designed to dissuade The King from giving up the throne for the woman he loves. Dietrich’s strategy is to seduce the monarch, an exercise that involves much fluttering of her eye lashes and a moonlight horse ride. Elisha’s brand of speculative history is certainly imaginative but often too difficult to swallow.
The greyscale staging reminds us that we are in times gone by, something that is strangely repeated in the make-up. The result is that both characters look like they have indeed been resurrected from the dead, or that you are watching a less funny, but equally ridiculous episode of The Addams Family. The newspaper headlines which line the wall and floor remind us that Edward’s private life did not enjoy the same concealment as Dietrich’s.
Dietrich is required to change costumes several times throughout the seventy-minute production, leaving the King to wander around aimlessly, or stare adoringly at a photo of Wallis while we all wait for the Hollywood starlet to reappear. We could perhaps accept such pauses, if the surrounding plot held enough of our attention, but whenever it looks like we might start to explore Edward’s motivations, or delve deeper in to the plot, Dietrich throws her legs over a piece of furniture and purrs something vacuous.
Ashton Spear’s interpretation of Edward VIII is admirable. His walk and tone of voice closely resembles the man we know so well from the news reels, and he manages to draw some emotion from the script. Ramona von Pusch is less convincing as Dietrich, particularly in the songs which feel somewhat reserved for this notoriously flamboyant character.
Knowing how much Edward VIII loved Wallis Simpson (he gave up the throne for her) it seems unlikely that even this playboy prince would have fallen so easily for Dietrich’s seduction technique, and while no-one will be expecting the kind of historical accuracy to be found in The Crown, Falling In Love Again, while an interesting concept seems to go too far in the other direction, losing its opportunity to really surprise its audience.