The Bunker, London – until 28 April 2018
Sometimes the present can be seen with greater clarity through the prism of the past and the reverse is just as true. In Kevin Armento’s play Devil With The Blue Dress which is directed by Joshua McTaggart, we look at someone who has been on the world stage since the 1990s – Hillary Clinton.
Of course, in recent years, she ran against Donald Trump for the US presidency – a campaign where she endured much mud-slinging from detractors. But before the ignominy of ‘losing’ to a man of Trump’s ‘character’, Hillary had to endure the spotlight as a side-effect of the numerous allegations involving her husband Bill, culminating in the Monica Lewinsky Scandal.
Set within a theatre, we hear Hillary (Flora Montgomery) tell her side of the story – something she has seldom spoken about in public. However, as Hillary admits early on, while she’s probing her memory, there are some things that she has no control over, which is where the other women affected by the Monica Lewinsky Scandal give their respective points of view.
Firstly, there’s Chelsea Clinton (Kirsty Philipps) who was at college when the story broke in the media. She is ridiculed by her peers and learns to hate the phrase “sexual relations”. Then there is Betty Currie (Dawn Hope) – one of the senior members of staff in the Clinton administration, and on friendly terms with both Hillary and Chelsea. She’s also the eyes and ears of the White House…
Thirdly, on the other side of the political fence, is Linda Tripp (Emma Handy). She ends up being Monica’s confidante and offers practical advice, hoping her pragmatism will rub off. Last, but not least there’s Monica herself (Daniella Isaacs). She’s very candid about how her relationship with Bill developed, but while she had genuine feelings for the then-president, her lack of comprehension of the media frenzy she walked into reveals her naivety. Between all of them they take it, in turn, to play Bill when direct conversations are recalled, but make no mistake, it is the points of view of the women that are firmly in focus.
As I mentioned earlier, the play illuminates the past and vice versa. Even with the plethora of affairs and questionable policies that Trump and his administration are known for, I was surprised by how strongly I still feel about the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and how it’s still a pivotal event in American politics. Other presidents have lied and/or had affairs – Nixon and JFK to name but two – and for the most part the Clinton tenure in the White House accomplished a great many things. Yet despite the unprecedented economic prosperity and successful foreign policy achieved during Clinton’s eight years in office, his accomplishments will forever be eclipsed by this one incident.
Obviously, in the past 12 months we’ve had the viral #MeToo campaign, and numerous women in the media have come forward about their experiences of harassment and assault. However, in the case of Lewinsky’s experience, it was mutually consensual… This brings us to the play’s themes of agency and complicity. Lewinsky may have wanted a relationship with Bill, but as the person in power already facing litigation from other recent allegations, the onus was on him to think of the consequences for both of them.
Of course, with their ‘insider’ knowledge, both Betty and Linda give an account for their actions – both behaving very differently, but both doing so because of ‘the bigger picture’. Chelsea, in contrast, has had zero influence on the situation, but her perspective towards the end of the play provides a pause for thought for Hillary.
Some good plays are let down towards the end by improbable or unsatisfactory conclusions. Not so with Devil With The Blue Dress. It acknowledges the ‘elephant in the room’ – the public perception of Hillary 20 years ago, her subsequent actions and how this may have influenced the American public in recent years. Regardless of her efforts to be beyond reproach, some regard her cool, ‘calculating’ demeanour as the antithesis of the charismatic properties that most presidents exhibit.
Lying, cheating and scandal can be forgiven in a presidential candidate, but not ‘aloofness’. Where then is the logic and merit in democracy?