DORFMAN DOES DISCO, HURRAH
Oh, fabulous! Nicholas Hytner could have done lots of traditional things to launch the recreated third auditorium, the jewel of “NT Future” with its great glass walls and grand public walkway over the scenery and props shops. Instead, the Dorf rocks into life with a surging, dancing, jumping, shimmying and shimmering immersive event: joyful yet serious, youthful and historical, throwing its arms out with glee and grace.
On paper, the idea might startle: a political history of the Philippines from the 1950’s to the peaceful and long-overdue 1986 People’s Revolution which sent that corrupt, extravagant, murderously brutal couple Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos packing. It centres on Imelda herself, and started life as a concept album by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim (it was first done at the NY Public Theater). All of this might suggest parallels with EVITA – another chronicle of an ordinary girl who used her beauty to marry a dictatorial leader, became obsessed with wealth and prestige, and maintained a conviction that the poor people loved her and that she loved them back, even when milking the exchequer dry. Imelda’s great cry of “Why don’t you love me?” could have been Eva Peron’s, had she lived.
But this show makes EVITA feel thoroughly old hat. It is pretty much sung-through and staged as a club night: a third of the audience on foot used as the People, on a wide and ever-changing floor down below (respeck to Times, Observer, Standard, and The Stage crits, not to mention boppin’ Baz Bamigboye of the Mail). The rest of us are galleried above, but drawn in emotionally by the racket, the wonderful catchy songs . Here Lies Love, Imelda’s anthem, stormed out by Natalie Mendoza, is tremendous, but even better is her bewildered friend Estrella (Gia Macuja Atchison) with “When she passed by”, and a solemnly beautiful lament for her son by the mother (Li-Tong Hsu) of the brave opposition leader Nino Aqino after his murder: singing how as a child he said “I wanna be a drummer” to bring people together, with the beat.
Which jerks the heart, because that is exactly what it does; this rowdy, life-affirming, fascinatingly detailed, newsreel-flashing, full-hearted tribute to a people abused and dignified and finally freed – well, nothing’s final in politics, but impressive nonetheless is the moment when the now diabolic, shrieking Imelda is drowned by helicopter sounds and the DJ – Martin Sarreal – comes down from his eyrie and quietly, with a simple guitar, sings the actual words of Filipinos on that day, with the refrain “God draws straight with crooked lines”.
And then as we wipe our eyes the ensemble dance – many Filipino in reality – dance crazily for us again. And we in the gallery slightly wish we’d opted for the floor tickets. But then I wouldn’t have had a notebook, to tell you about it properly.
Box Office 020 7452 3000 to 8 Jan
rating: four and a salute to the new auditorium