Here Lies Love

Concept, music and lyrics by David Byrne, music by Fatboy Slim
Public Theater
Dorfman Theatre, National Theatre

Natalie Mendoza (Imelda Marcos) Credit: Tristram Kenton
Julius Ebreo, Li-Tong Hsu, Jim Andrew Ferrer, Lauren Chia and the Here Lies Love company Credit: Tristram Kenton
Martin Sarreal (DJ) Credit: Tristram Kenton

After a major construction transformation, the National's Cottesloe Theatre has re-emerged as the Dorfman Theatre.

While the auditorium is substantially the same, albeit jazzed up for this opening production, the front of house space has received a magnificent makeover that is worth a visit on its own account.

The entrance to the Dorfman feels understated but welcoming and spacious, something that could never have been said before. In addition, the public areas in front of the Lyttelton are also completely refreshed, featuring a new bookshop, functional cafe, expensive restaurant and even a pub selling craft beers—whatever those are.

To launch the new theatre space, Sir Nicholas Hytner has imported a cult hit created by Talking Heads’ David Byrne from New York's Public Theater via Broadway.

Here Lies Love is a new kind of 360° musical loosely relating the life of Imelda Marcos, whose main claim to fame in the West was an unbeatable collection of shoes. Ironically, Natalie Mendoza, who dominates the evening as the heroine of the story, wears the same pair of platforms throughout the 90 minutes running (more accurately disco dancing) time.

The first fact that will strike both music fans and followers of modern history is that the underlying story is almost a retelling of Evita for the clubbing generation, moved a few thousand miles further east.

The tale itself is delivered at a comic book canter with barely a break to draw breath from the moment just after the War when we meet an innocent young schoolgirl to the day when an older but arguably no wiser Imelda is forced to flee the country with her husband to enjoy that traditional ex-presidential ending, exile.

In between, the small town girl becomes a beauty queen and dates Dean John-Wilson's Ninoy Aquino, a future politician and, like Banquo, relative of Presidents (both his wife Corazon and son Benigno held the post after his assassination) before leaving home.

In Manila, she soon starts dating Mark Bautista as Ferdinand Marcos and, like Evita, helps hubby to fame and fortune before becoming crazed by power and wealth, uncaring while the people live in penurious squalour.

All of this is not so much set to music as a backdrop to belted out pop and disco numbers created by Byrne and Fatboy slim with the title song head and shoulders ahead of the rest.

People are unlikely to pay for tickets to Here Lies Love for the politics or a history lesson. The attraction lies almost entirely in the presentation under the direction of Alex Timbers, quietly becoming a cult favourite on and off Broadway.

The audience is physically divided largely by age and inclination. Standing in the pit are the young clubbers, delighted to be manipulated by a lively DJ called Martin Sarreal, dancing around a revolving catwalk and at times becoming heavily involved in the action.

While the cast members sing, with powerhouse Julie Yammanee particularly memorable, the most impressive aspect is the dancing choreographed by Annie-B Parson. This is unashamedly modelled on rock concerts (she has worked with David Byrne no less in that field) and music videos.

Looking down from on high are the far less animated oldies, very much observers, even though they might clap along to the beat.

The likelihood is that, while both camps will contain substantial constituencies that have a whale of a time, those willing to treat the evening as a live action rave will generally be the happier at the end of what is billed in more than one sense as "a revolutionary musical experience".

Reviewer: Philip Fisher