REVIEW: Here Lies Love (Silo Theatre)

Review by Sharu Delilkan

[All that Glitters is not Gold]

If you’re after a fun and entertaining end-of-year night out, Silo Theatre’s production of Here Lies Love is perfect.

It is based on David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s concept album Here Lies Love, about the life of the former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos.

The performances from the five divas – Villette Dasha, Colleen Davis, Ria Hall, Sarah Nessia and Jennifer Ward-Lealand – are flawless.  Taking the spotlight in turns, each one supports the whole with poise, style and grace.

And the live band on stage, led by the talented musical director Robin Kelly, is the icing on the cake.  Kelly’s 5-piece band is in superb form, fulfilling a background and foreground role throughout the production.  Not to mention the iconic Paddy Free’s brilliant contribution to the electronic music programming, which complements the spirited onstage band.

Likewise, Daniel Williams’ simple yet glitzy set, including the mandatory mirrorballs, make us in the cabaret seating feel like we are part of the show.  However, I feel a visual shoe reference is missing, particularly since Mrs Marcos is synonymous with her infamous shoe collection.

It is equally impossible to ignore the impeccable costumes created by none other than our theatre costume doyenne Elizabeth Whiting.  My personal favourite is the stunning ensemble that she put together for the lovely Villette Dasha.

So, my question is why do I feel let down after coming away from this brilliant production? After much soul searching and reading the programme from cover to cover, I realise that the lack of context or narrative is the missing link.  Having lived through the Marcos regime from afar in Malaysia I feel that the gravitas of this album that was purposefully written “with shiny rhythms…that lull the listener into a false sense of familiarity with each song’s pop structure” is and will be lost on most of the audience members because the production fails to set the scene.  On their website Silo Theatre has a commitment to “curate…work in direct response to the world around us”.  Unfortunately, their lack of social commentary on such an historic bygone era in the Philippines could easily be construed as flippant.

To provide a bit of historic context here, Imelda was a beauty queen, profligate, vain and above all self-serving.  She claimed to love beauty but was beyond a doubt complicit in the corruption and human rights abuses of her dictator husband Ferdinand Marcos during his infamous regime from 1965-1986. Her vanity projects as governor of Manila included erecting arts buildings to show off to the world, despite their cost, to attract celebrities to the country.

Personally, I would have preferred an emcee or a narrator to set the scene.  The said emcee would have also used tongue-in-cheek and/or double entendre to educate us about the Philippines history.  But instead the show was content to be a concert delivering songs from an album – definitely a missed opportunity that could have given the production its edge.  Not only are they ignoring that dark aspect of their subject, but by failing to provide context to any degree, when it comes to the oppression of the Filipinos, it appears that they’re dancing over it too.

As mentioned in Lucy Beeler’s Pantograph Punch essay printed in the programme, the stage musical adaptation of this album has often been criticised for its cultural appropriation and “oversimplifying the stark reality of martial-law-governed Philippines at the time”.  While Silo have opted to perform the album rather than the musical adaptation, it begs the question, why has nothing been done to change that for this production?  Yes, I loved the whole fun aspect of the show but doesn’t a company like Silo Theatre need to take a stand in this instance?  Director Sophie Roberts says in the programme that she chose to stage this production to empower and elevate powerful women, but casting five powerful musical voices with no narrative is not sufficient.  To juxtapose that intention of empowerment against the lack of context or commentary further amplifies the triviality of this production.

And last but certainly not least, the fact that only one Filipino (Sarah Nessia) has been cast in the show is truly baffling.  Especially since music has been deeply ingrained in the culture of the Filipinos and they are renowned for their singing flair.  Furthermore, in a city where Filipinos represent the fourth largest growing Asian community, it is strange that this production doesn’t demonstrate much consultation with the rich and vibrant Filipino community in NZ.

So if you’re happy to dance your cares away in a vacuum Here Lies Love is definitely for you.  But if you’re interested in being educated about Imelda Marcos and her effect on the Philippines then you may end up disappointed like me.

You choose.

Here Lies Love plays at Q Theatre until December 8. 

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