Falling in Love Again – Kings Head Theatre, London

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Writer: Ron Elisha

Director: Tama Matheson

Those half-dreams just before sleep where you compose in detail what you’d say in an imagined conflict, a flirtation, a debate with someone. They’re great. It’s when we’re at our most confident best, when word choice never fails us and each mot is not just bon, but juste.

Sadly, these imagined battles of wits never take place how we think (or, mostly, at all). Writer Ron Elisha has gone further than most to make his dream a reality by jotting down a 70-minute play’s worth of his imagined conversation between King Edward VIII and Queen (of Hollywood) Marlene Dietrich on the night of the former’s abdication in 1936.

This work seeks to pose a large “what-if” to the abdication question. Would Dietrich have persuaded the King to remain in place (possibly with her at his side rather than Mrs. Simpson) if she had gained access to his house that night? Apparently she did actually drive there to speak to him but was turned away at the gates.

There’s some entertaining spots in this particular flights of fancy – though overshadowed by a handful of confusing and disappointing passages which shatter any illusion of plausibility and reality, negating the whole play’s effect and purpose. The King seems, for a while, to speak only in quotes or aphorisms about love and duty. Marlene is a seductress who isn’t given greater motivation other than her own lust and possibly a thirst for power? In fact, the real woman was a canny operator – this visit and the ensuing conversation seems like a poor tactic for a strategic mind (how could she, a married mother, be the woman at the King’s side instead of Mrs. Simpson when the chief objection to the latter was the fact she was married).

Regarding reality versus a dreamed conversation – clumsy breaks with it (including a weird horse-riding scene where he throws his official papers across the fields) are exemplified by occasions where despite there being a record player featured, music seems to start at the click of a finger and come from nowhere.

The performances from Ramona Von Pusch as Dietrich and Ashton Spear as Edward VIII are fun – though through the scripting it does feel like they’re playing at seduction rather than living it.

While this is presented as a high-stakes flirtation the truth is this is a massive political power game. He’s a King! The conversation between the two is fine, but it’s hard to buy into it when there’s so much real history and context surrounding the events that simply does not come through.

Runs until 8 February 2020 

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