Mark Ludmon reviews Falling In Love Again, a new play by Ron Elisha now playing at the King’s Head Theatre London.
Falling In Love Again
King’s Head Theatre, London
A member of the royal family prepares to step back from his duties and move abroad for “a quiet life” because of his love for an American woman while political unrest grows across Europe. However, in Ron Elisha’s new play Falling In Love Again, it isn’t 2020 but 1936. Written before Prince Harry and Meghan announced their decision to quit, this timely two-hander explores the dilemma that faced Edward VIII when he was torn between his duty to Britain and his love for divorcee Wallis Simpson, leading him to abdicate and live in privacy abroad.
Elisha has picked up on a report that German actor and singer Marlene Dietrich, the “queen of Hollywood”, tried to visit the king at his home, Fort Belvedere, in Surrey on the night before his abdication to change his mind. In this “speculative history”, she wasn’t turned back at the gate but was given a private audience with him in the final hours before the monarchy passed to his brother. Cheekily calling him by one of his names, “Andy”, she challenges and teases him, quotes Kant and Goethe, and sings to him, but will falling in love still win the day as it did 84 years ago?
Elisha demonstrates extensive knowledge of the lives of both characters, telling us as much about Dietrich as the future Duke of Windsor. Played by Ramona von Pusch, Dietrich is bold and provocative, a seductress who knows how to press a man’s button, while Ashton Spear’s king is a mix of child-like bewilderment and duty, with a boyish charm despite being in his early 40s. Directed by Tama Matheson, the production has touches of humour alongside the debates about love and duty, livened up by Dietrich’s songs and some delightfully fantastical moments. The story is matched by set and costumes in a monochrome palette that reflects Hollywood film as well as the newspapers plastering the royal crisis on their front pages.
As an exercise in historical speculation, this play will be fascinating to anyone interested in the royals and the golden age of Hollywood. There are passing mentions of Hitler, who in 1936 was already preparing for war by invading the Rhineland, but Elisha opts to avoid delving too deeply into the Duke of Windsor’s troubling admiration for the Nazi regime and Dietrich’s fierce opposition. While the play benefits from two enjoyable performances, it rarely feels more than a fantasy built on biography rather than bringing to life these two larger-than-life characters. But, especially if you enjoyed The Crown, Falling In Love Again offers an intriguing perspective on the abdication crisis, full of illuminating detail and insights into royal life that continue to be relevant today.
Running to 8 February 2020.