The National Theatre’s recently revamped Dorfman Theatre (formerly the Cottesloe) has opened its doors and its first resident — Here Lies Love — provides quite the opening party.
At first it might seem bizarre to tell the story of Imelda Marcos, the much-beloved then much-disgraced and much-beshoed First Lady of the Philippines, through the medium of a “disco-musical” complete with revolving dance floors, laser lights and live DJ. And it is bizarre.
But it works.
It works on the premise that politics itself can be a bit of a song and a dance. The public is charmed, schmoozed, appealed to, seduced, and so are we here. The show, co-devised by David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) and Fatboy Slim, has music at its heart and pumps out anthem after anthem while the standing audience is encouraged to bop along (and oh, we do). Lights flash, pupils dilate, we submit to the mob.
The set itself is a triumph. 360 degrees and constantly rotating so the standing audience is literally ‘swept along’ (you can opt to sit in the rafters if you prefer) as Imelda — played by the utterly beguiling Natalie Mendoza — rises from an impoverished childhood to become wife of President Ferdinand Marcos and political mogul in her own right. It is only as her charming smiles make way for snarling grimaces that we question what we were really cheering for.
The downfall of this stupendous set is that the story can’t help but come second. We are certainly taken (danced?) through the motions — those with no prior knowledge of the Marcos backstory should have no trouble keeping up — but the complexities of the subject certainly take a backseat.
But with song and dance numbers that resemble Annie meets Studio 54 and costumes like Disney on crack, it’s hard not be charmed. We think that’s the point. So submit to the lights, submit to the music, submit to the mob. It feels pretty good.
Here Lies Love is at the National Theatre's Dorfman Theatre until 8 January 2015. Tickets cost £15-£45 and can be booked online. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary review ticket.