All in a week – Imelda and Rizal in London

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa - The Philippine Star

LONDON — It might have been coincidence but this week in London the city has treats for the world on the Philippines: one is the launch of the audio book on Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere by Downton Abbey actor Richard Grant and the other is David Bryne’s and Fat Boy Slims musical on Imelda’s Untold Story — Here Lies Love. My daughter, Veronica Pedrosa of Al-Jazeera was invited to give some historical background on Imelda’s untold story. The book, documentary, and the musical make for an interesting experiment on how the producers meld the three art forms to tell one story.

The launch of the audio book on Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere by Downton Abbey’s Richard Grant was a bonus. I hear he is a new character in the popular television serial, an art historian who upsets  rigid family life in the famous house. But like many fans of the TV serial any romantic notions I had about Downton Abbey was quashed by the untimely death of Dan Stevens. Our invitation to the launch came from David Guerrero, the son of the late Leon Ma. Guerrero who was the first Philippine Ambassador to the Court of St. James. He was an indefatigable promoter of our national hero, writing, translating his books for posterity. David continues the work of his father.

You might wonder how a Briton could read the Noli properly but that is the skill of Grant. He is known for reading other audio books but the only way to know is to get a copy of the audio book, listen to it and be surprised. He did some readings of the book to the guests, mimicking Padre Damaso brilliantly.

He liked the book and tells why in an interview with ABS-CBN,“I was so struck by the fact that it combined so many genres of being an absolute page turning thriller, in a sense, as well as history of the most incredible colonial social injustice. And then it’s livened by incredible humor, high comedy and satire.”

Congratulations to David for this opening to non-Filipino readers the novel that presaged the Philippine revolution for independence against Spain.

“It’s time for a new way of telling a story through mobile, through web, ebooks, audiobooks, so there should be no barrier to people reading the book or reading the story at least,” said David Guerrero, head of Guerrero Publishing.

“We chose London to launch the audiobook because we’re seeking an international audience. We want people everywhere in the world to get to know more about Jose Rizal, the importance of Noli, and that’s why we chose to have the event in London and use an English actor,” Guerrero added.

* * *

I am more involved on the second happening, to appear on stage at the National Theater and give a historical background to the David Bryne and Fatboy Slim of the musical on Imelda’s Untold Story “Here Lies Love.” My daughter, Al-Jazeera’s Veronica Pedrosa will interview me on stage on how I came to write the book and what led to my political activism after its attempted suppression by Imelda Marcos. The book was written in the 70s, more than 40 years ago and I am just as surprised that up to this day the Imelda story lingers and continues to excite its readers. It sold more than 300,000 copies in 13 editions around the world. The latest edition was published last year and it has sold out once again.

I will have now to decide whether to re-publish on its own or together with a third book on Imelda Romualdez Marcos: The Verdict which is now ready for publication.

The sequence of our participation in the National Theater is an invitation to see the musical tonight and then our participation happens tomorrow where the audience can interact and ask questions about the book, the Al-Jazeera documentary and the musical. Have the producers of the musical, described as very good and quite fun, caught the essence of the story and its implications to the Philippines?

If it did, how was it done? I am just as curious because it is a formidable task to make something that is “fun” at the same time drive the seriousness of the role the Marcoses played especially Imelda’s excesses during martial law can be interpreted.

In the review of the musical by Christopher Hart in the London Sunday Times Magazine he says the production has admirable restraint and wonders why it was not just called Imelda like the production on Evita was simply called Evita. Well, there is a story behind the “Here Lies Love” title because it is Imelda’s wish that this should be the epitaph on her tomb. My daughter asks in her documentary whether she is in fact deluded and has created her own reality.

I still have to see the musical tonight and will be able to say more after I had seen it and compared it with both the documentary and the book. And then, of course, there is still the story of her trial in New York in which I was the spokesperson for the Cory Aquino government. That part, too, needs to be included to make a proper summing up.

“The final song,” continues Hart “sung to a simple guitar is genuinely moving. The one character who really stands out, who you want more of is Imelda’s childhood friend and later her maid, Esrella played by Gia Macuja Atchinson (I was surprised to know that the cast were made up of Filipinos{.”

“Natalie Mendoza is perfect as Imelda, evolving from a fiercely ambitious and insecure young beauty queen to a painted stricken mask with that underlying insecurity still there in her eyes. I anything, it’s more evident than ever, for all the thousands of shoes and billions of dollars — none of it is ever enough to fill the void.

If Here Lies Love had combined all the stylish sound and vision with a powerful and insightful narrative, it might have been something really good. As it is, It’s just quite fun.” That is one review and I am sure each of us will see what we want to see in the Imelda story. For me, it is more complex than a simple rags to riches story.








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