Theatre review: Here Lies Love at the National Theatre Dorfman
- Credit: Archant
With an Evita revival running in the West End, there seems a trend for musicals about despotic, spendthrift self-styled women-of-the-people who married international leaders.
Like the Rice/Lloyd Webber offering, this boogie through the life of Imelda Marcos by musician/composer David Byrne and DJ Fatboy Slim offers dazzling costume changes, a sung-though score of uplifting melodies and an anti-heroine with a cold, ambitious heart.
Taking inspiration from Imelda’s love of disco dancing. the newly refurbished Dorfman Theatre – formerly the Cottesloe, now with better toilets and bigger bar – has been converted into a nightclub. Audience members can sit in the gallery or throw shapes on the dancefloor, shepherded by pink-jumpsuited bouncers as shifting catwalks and rostra are used to perform upon. At one point we’re even taught to line-dance.
In a tightly-choreographed enjoyable camp fest that borders on the glib, Alex Timbers’ slick direction fast-tracks us from Imelda’s modest origins in the 1940s via beauty pageant success to first dating senator Ninoy Aquino, then future pres Ferdinand Marcos.
As the story turns darker – Imelda pops pills to deal with the public attention and marital infidelities – the couple’s popular presidency turns to dictatorship with extravagant spending, the declaration of martial law, and imprisonment and assassination of opposition leader Aquino.
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Natalie Mendoza is seductively dazzling as Imelda, ably supported by a slick-haired Mark Bautista as Ferdinand Marcos and Dean John-Wilson as a poignant Aquino who bravely returns from exile to his death.
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And Peter Nigrini’s evocative projections on multiple screens offer images of real life figures that remind us of Imelda’s towering ego and the Marcos’ globe-trotting courtship of world leaders.
From the programme notes Byrne means to criticise America’s complicity in the saga and pay tribute to the bravery of the Filipino people for staging a peaceful coup against the Marcos in 1986.
But the lack of dialogue, coupled with the relentlessly throbbing disco beat deny quieter moments to explore either political or emotional complexities.
We hear almost nothing from ordinary folk about what it’s to live in a dictatorship, nor do we get a window on the inner life of the increasingly delusional Imelda. Oddly there’s barely a mention of shoes.
For all its dazzle design and energy, Here Lies Love leaves you as empty as its heroine’s heart.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Until January 8.