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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Here Lies Love
Dorfman Theatre Autumn-Winter 2014

So these two guys write a sung-through musical about a poor provincial girl in a former Spanish colony who uses her beauty to move to the capital, catch the eye of a rising politician, and ride with him to the presidential palace, becoming the glamorous international face of his dictatorship and living in luxury while draining the national economy. 

No, not that one. Here Lies Love, by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, is about Imelda Marcos of the Philippines, whose life story does indeed bear some similarities to Eva Peron's, but this musical is entirely different in tone from the Webber-Rice epic. 

Taking a cue from the fact that one of Imelda's passions during her high living was Eighties-style disco, the theatre is converted to a dance club, and ticket buyers who choose the main floor will stand and be moved about the dance floor, and will be expected to dance along at key points. (The more sedate can choose upper-level seats.) 

With Fatboy Slim's driving dance music setting and sustaining the party tone and the cast performing on several stages and dance platforms around the room, Here Lies Love becomes a celebration, if not of Imelda's excesses, then of what is presented as her essential innocence and of Philippine culture in general. 

The portrait of Imelda in this musical is certainly more sympathetic than the picture of Eva Peron in Evita, more the simple country girl innocently enjoying her sudden immersion in the high life than the cunning social climber sleeping her way to the top. 

As played by Natalie Mendoza, she seems to age overnight from fresh-faced beauty to frumpy pill-popping housfrau, and her 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina' song is the sweetly plaintive 'Why Don't You Love Me?' 

The darker side of the Marcos story is not ignored – we see political reformer Ninoy Aquino (ironically an early beau of Imelda's) imprisoned, exiled and assassinated (In further ironies his widow and later his son would become Philippine Presidents). 

But it's all-but-buried under the popsy music and the colourful and high-energy disco dancing of the chorus, a bouncy upbeat musical about a potentially dark subject proving far more enjoyable than attempts at irony and depth would be. (Be honest – isn't Evita at its weakest when it tries to be serious?) 

Natalie Mendoza makes a thoroughly charming and sexy young Imelda and a pitiable older woman and Dean John-Wilson is manly and forthright as Aquino, but Mark Bautista is given little chance to register as Marcos. 

Director Alex Timbers, choreographer Annie-B Parson, the light show by Justin Townsend and video projections by Peter Nigrini, and the high-kicking, high energy ensemble are the ones who really carry and sustain this irresistibly entertaining show.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Here Lies Love - National Theatre 2014  

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