Photo Brigitte Dummer
by Gary Naylor
May. 16, 2019
“A huge thrill to see and hear Ute up close in so intimate a space, and to witness her evocation of Marlene with such skill and humanity”
Too old to pursue men – and women – (not that many needed much chasing), too reclusive to light up the town and too curious not to respond, Marlene (we don’t need the second name do we?) phones Ute Lemper and talks. Ute had written the letter that prompted the call and it is that (one-sided) conversation that prompts the show.
31 years on, Ute is no longer the ultra-talented toast of the Parisian stage, but a global star of stage and screen, the early empathy with Marlene matured into the raw material for this one-two-woman show. Sometimes Ute is Ute, but mostly she is Marlene, on the phone, telling stories, being Marlene.
We hear of the lovers of course, the pleasure of the senses and the pain of separation. We hear of her almost lifelong refusal to “love” and how that drove an unbreachable rift between her and her daughter. We hear of her longing for Heimat – a Germany that disappeared forever when the Weimar Republic was crushed. And we hear of her courage, moral and physical, in the war years, living alongside the soldiers fighting on the front lines. Maybe you didn’t need brains to be an anti-Nazi (as she asserted), but you sure needed heart.
Punctuating this life like no other, Ute sings the songs that marked such times, 30 years and more of performing vesting the words and music with a depth surely no other singer could mine. She gets super support from Vana Gierig’s excellent band, mixed to exactly the right level to balance the vocals.
What songs they are! From the seething anger of Pete Seeger’s “Where have all the flowers gone?” to the Weimarish satire of Hollaender and Spolianksy to the Hollywood numbers of Johnny Mercer. The songs may be (as the kids say these days) totally owned by Ute, but they are also totally Marlene – and, one thinks, such was the fate of everything she touched.
It’s a huge thrill to see and hear Ute up close in so intimate a space, and to witness her evocation of Marlene with such skill and humanity. Marlene and Ute are both examples of an internationalism that is in retreat, a love of Heimat balanced by an embrace of other cultures. And if we can’t listen to the warnings of where such developments lead from two Germans, then who will we listen to?
Rendezvous with Marlene is at the Arcola Theatre until 19 May.