The story of Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson has been dramatised many times: the first Royal abdication in the modern day, a step-back from duty and tradition for the love of an American divorcee.
Accidentally topical with the current fallout from Megxit, the story should gain some currency by association as we join the King on the night before his renunciation of the throne. Wallis is in France, away from the prying eyes of the press – the headlines which are on the floor and the wall of the room. But Edward isn’t spending the night on his own.
This play surmises a situation in which the Royal rebel (Ashton Spear) is visited by one of Hollywood’s greatest stars – Marlene Dietrich (Ramona von Pusch). Although she did make the visit, Ron Elisha’s play is an odd fantasy. It has a lot of potential on paper, but it does not take long to realise there isn’t enough going on to keep us interested.
As we enter the theatre, both actors are already on stage. It is unclear why Dietrich is there as the first scene is her arrival into the Royal presence. Is the King daydreaming about her? Despite being one of the most glamorous actresses on the 1930s screen, her appearance verges more on the grotesque, with over-defined eyebrows and almost charcoal lips.
Edward, in turn, feels off, affecting a hint of American accent at times. This makes him seem to be mocking his people when it is time to deliver his address to them, in the voice we have heard in numerous recordings of the speech.
A petulant man, he both hates and thrives on his privilege and power. He misquotes Shakespeare’s “love first, duty last” yet demands his full formal title and is appalled that Dietrich rises to his baiting of her as a harlot by retaliating physically.
Although Wallis doesn’t appear, she is a strong presence throughout Falling in Love Again. Dietrich is requested to don her clothes on two seperate occasions, and at one stage the two women appear to merge in Edward’s mind.
The trouble is, we do not believe what we are seeing for a moment. The writing and accents are all over the place, and this is not the Edward we know from casual knowledge of Royal history, or the Dietrich who was so luminous and mysterious on the screen (despite von Pusch’s game attempt to emulate her singing style in brief moments lit by coloured spotlights).
One passage which might have made the play far more interesting is a brief discussion about Hitler. Edward clearly admires him and dismisses any notion of his causing pain to others; Dietrich, a German by birth, notes that he is dangerous. But the moment passes.
Much as I would like to believe that the retiring King of England spent his last official night as monarch playing horses and golf with a film star set to seduce him, I somehow doubt it.
The unkind words about his mother (“ice water in her veins”) and brother’s stamina feel more accurate, but we have no sense of this man spending a night of conflicted conscience.
Dietrich was not above trying to save lost causes, as her relationship with alcoholic actor John Gilbert in his final days attests, but I cannot see her offering herself up to be Queen (“I’d let you keep Wallis, on the side”), or murmuring demurely (“let me be your Wallis”).
Falling in Love Again runs at the King’s Head Theatre until 8 February 2020. Photo credits Phil Swallow.
LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to see Falling in Love Again.