By the time we knew it the Hippodrome, or the Coventry Theatre as it had then become, had seen somewhat better days. Rather as a beached whale, all that remained of this triumph of Art Deco architecture, dating from 1937, was a landmark of peeling stucco and rusting ironwork towering over a wasteland of dereliction and decay.
|the former Hippodrome Theatre, Coventy [click to enlarge all images]|
Already the writing was on the wall, both metaphorically and literally, and soon the lights would be dimmed, briefly to be relit for a short period as a Bingo Hall, before being extinguished for evermore. But of the time of which we write, the early 1970s, it still clung to some vestiges of its former glory. Indeed, about then we had attended a wonderful production of Monteverdi's 'The Coronation of Poppea' given, most likely, by the Welsh National Opera. Of this, though, we cannot be sure.
But of the final European Tour of Marlene Dietrich we are certain and now, nearly forty years later, the memories come flooding back. We had seats in the orchestra stalls, in an auditorium capable of seating, strangely, 2001, and where, along with the moth and the mould, we were joined by a handful of Coventrians, among them the curious, the cynical and, delightfully, the half-crazed. In total we numbered no more than thirty at the most.
|Marlene Dietrich, possibly at the height of her long career|
Silver lamé, swathed in fox fur, concealing a heavy reliance on body sculpting under garments, was Miss Dietrich's mode of attire which, with newly peroxide hair and careful stage lighting, did much to disguise her seventy or more years. Sadly, her rendering of 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone?', punctuated with dramatic pauses, relied all too heavily on audible prompts and sips of what we took to be gin.
But we should not, perhaps, remember her in those last years when she had, as has been said, become "a prisoner of her own legend".
|Marlene Dietrich playing a cameo role in Orson Welles' 'Touch of Evil'|
Rather, we choose to think of her at the height of her career, not least for the small but significant role played in the 1958 classic film of Orson Welles, 'Touch of Evil'. There, with all of her fabled beauty, steeped in glamour and with that so famous, husky voice she was, indeed, truly a star.
And tonight, once more, as we hear that voice again from across the years pulsating to the strains of 'Lili Marleen', we think fondly of the once great Marlene Dietrich, and, not with a little pride, recall how all those years past she touched momentarily upon our lives.