Retro and Kitsch - So in Style
By Raymond Gill
13 March 2006
Making the banal meaningful is one of the successes of this year's Adelaide Festival.
Imelda would like this show, and here lies its problem in its current state.
"Here lies love" is what Imelda Marcos intends to have on her gravestone, summing up a life devoted to "beauty and love". At least, that is what she told the United Nations' General Assembly in a bizarre lecture that laid out her plan for world harmony and involved numerous references to Pacman.
That's one of the more wacky facts about the former first lady and pariah of the Philippines learnt from David Byrne's Here Lies Love, which had its world premiere at the Adelaide Festival at the weekend and ends tomorrow. The show delivers Talking Head fans a blast of Byrne with songs both jangly and joyously melodic charting Marcos' rise from humble beginnings to ruler of the land.
It was billed as an opera or "theatrical musical event" about Imelda's rise and fall by Byrne and Fatboy Slim, without their on-stage involvement. In December, that plan was ditched because of the technological expense. It was scaled back to a "song cycle", with two dynamic singers, Dana Diaz-Tutaan (Imelda) and Ganda Suthivarakom (her childhood friend Estrella), four musicians and Byrne, who also sings and links the songs with a personable, unscripted narration. Fat Boy Slim's "musical contributions" is recognised.
Video images by Byrne and fascinating, retro-fun archival footage of Imelda's beauty-queen days and when she boogied with world leaders are projected throughout. The dance-club setting means that the audience can drink and dance as well. A "sketch" and a "work in progress", it is no less interesting or enjoyable for that.
Byrne is the cool master of making the banal meaningful, though, as it stands, the show offers not much more of Imelda's life than is already known.
Introducing the show, Byrne said he was interested in how powerful people justify their morally reprehensible acts to themselves, but he found Imelda more interesting than your garden-variety dictator because she had a disco installed in her New York townhouse.
The story intends to contrast Imelda's rise with Estrella's stagnation in the provinces, but that thread is dropped about three songs in. Instead, Here Lies Love is a straight bio-concert about Imelda who comes across as a nice lady, trying to do nice things for her people. There are no judgements of her morally reprehensible activities or personal excesses, not even a mention of shoes. It's like doing a concert about Pinocchio and not mentioning his nose. Imelda would like this show, and here lies its problem in its current state.