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REVIEW: Lunch with Marlene and Noël – at The Connaught Theatre, Worthing

A LASTING showbiz friendship between two greats of the film and theatre world is celebrated in Chris Burgess's delightful play Lunch with Marlene and Noël.

Born out of his fascination for Marlene Dietrich and the near 40-year "mutual admiration" she shared with Nol Coward, the play first opened in 2008 at New End Theatre, Hampstead, as an hour-long charmer that received rave reviews.

Extended to nearly two hours, the play is now on tour with the original cast and creative team. TV vamp Kate O'Mara and stage icon Frank Barrie play the legendary pair and bring a convincing warmth all of their own to the Connaught Theatre, Worthing, this week.

Who better than Kate to portray the ageing German actress who continued to ooze sex appeal despite her advancing years? Pretty much the same age as the part she is playing, O'Mara even shows off her still great set of pins!

And though less round-faced than Coward, Barrie nevertheless brings out the voice and style of the suburban boy who conjured up a fantasy world of glamour and sophistication.

Poignant and intriguing, the first half is set in a VIP lounge in Heathrow Airport, where the great friends chance upon one another as they await their flights.

Marlene begins to pour out her heart to Nol, revealing shocking news as she goes over memories of the war and her painful return to Berlin for the last time.

The act closes with them saying that the one thing they never did but should have done was to perform together.

This "dream" concert is then rehearsed for the second half, where we hear many of their favourite numbers – Let's Do It, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Lola, I Remember it Well and, of course, Falling in Love Again.

Neither being a great musical talent, Marlene and Nol nevertheless had something special which is recreated here by O'Mara and Barrie, with a heartwrenching solo of Where Have All the Flowers Gone? proving a real highlight.

Though centred on these two legends, the play is not just one for their fans. It is a fascinating character portrayal that says a lot about the fact that people don't always present themselves as they really are.

One little thing I would love an answer on is the perfume! I'm not sure if the strong scent came from a member of the audience or from Kate herself, but it was so evocative it was the final piece that really made you believe this was Dietrich herself.

Lunch With Marlene and Nol runs at Worthing's Connaught Theatre until tomorrow, at 7.30pm daily with a Saturday matine at 2.30pm. Tickets 17 to 22.

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