Review: Bill Clinton: Hercules

Moyan Brenn, Edinburgh Festival / CC
Photograph: Moyan Brenn / CC

Genre: Drama; Solo Theatre

Venue: Assembly George Square Theatre

Website: Theatre Tours International

Written by Rachel Mariner / Starring Bob Paisley / Directed by Guy Masterson

Lowdown

‘Come and meet the 42nd President as he cuts loose and shoots straight from the hip in his own fantasy TED talk! From the Trojan Wars to the future of democracy, his dreams, regrets, hopes and passions, Occupy, Hillary and Monica… Beloved stained icon and reviled Slick Willy. A life epic in its own right, but what will be Bubba’s final act? Can the Comeback Kid come back? Kansas City’s Bob Paisley is directed by Fringe legend and Olivier winner Guy Masterson (Morecambe, Animal Farm, Scaramouche Jones, 12 Angry Men) in the ultimate tell-all by Rachel Mariner.’

Review

Bill Clinton: Hercules is a fascinating character study of former U.S President Bill Clinton played by Bob Paisley. A one man show possessed of immense insight, research and talent, this audience member was nevertheless asking by the end if they had the right president.

Paisley plays a strangely forthcoming Bill Clinton, taking the audience through a half-internal dialogue, half talk show reflection of his life. Right from the start, Paisley dawns a superb Clinton persona, right down to the easy swagger and Alabama drawl. Remove the stage and have him sit in the audience and it’s not difficult to imagine the Clinton backslap and practised repertoire.

For all the qualities that Paisley brings to an excellent portrayal of Clinton, the writing and context let him down. The setting is never made clear: is this Oprah, are we sharing an after dinner brandy or is it a meandering ride through the Clinton internal engine? The stage lights are too bright and the plush leather chairs too out of place for a one-man conversation, harming the validity of any insight that the writing teases, particularly given Clinton’s legendary liberty with the truth.

The result is a curious cross between a TED talk and late night confessional that is distracting. Whether a faux interview or presidential tete-a-tete, Paisley’s multifaceted characterization loses much with the set-up not explained.

Indeed, the writing adds to the ambiguity leaving the audience pondering if this really is Clinton. Paisley plays the easy, relaxed charm of Clinton with panache and disconcerting ease. Yet in combination with a script that has him explaining his purpose with a messianic zeal, a man of destiny who brings peace, it all brings to mind Clinton’s successor rather than Clinton himself.

According to the real Clinton, every year he re-reads Seamus Heaney’s The Cure at Troy, an adaptation of the Ancient Greek play Philoctetes. Little effort is made to conceal that Paisley’s Clinton thinks himself a Hercules, on this Earth to bring peace through unity. ‘I am Hercules’, says Clinton as he talks here about global conflicts. Indeed, writing ‘Paisley’s Clinton’ immediately brings to mind his role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

The results then are mixed. In the public memory of Clinton, he was a softly spoken but passionate advocate of his position. The accent has been parodied a thousand times as much Nixon’s flabby cheeks.

But Clinton has never been a proselytiser. The pre-ordained, hubristic tendencies of the script are inconsistencies more akin to George W. Bush. Do Americans really remember Clinton as we do Blair, a messianic soothsayer who thought only he could slay the dragon?

There’s a hint of the Nixon confessional; a need to be understood and to justify. In Clinton’s case, there’s a faux tragedy in that he’s stuck between his own creations: the defence of hawkish American policies and the envy of his wife’s (undeclared) presidential ambition to transform the world like he tried to.

Ultimately, this is facsimile but never a vaudeville Bill Clinton. If the chicanery and duplicity of a man who is otherwise widely regarded as above board, but for the odd personal faux pas, is something that you think is worth exploring, this is for you. The analysis that lingers after the performance is why audiences should flock to it. The questions raised about its context are as many strengths as weaknesses, guaranteeing that audiences reflect and re-evaluate who Bill Clinton really is.

 

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Alastair Stewart 81 Articles

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and journalist based in Edinburgh and Almería. He currently works as a journalist for The Sol Times and regularly writes about politics, history and culture for magazines across Europe.


He was formerly a press officer at the Scottish Parliament. He graduated from Edinburgh University with an MA in International Relations.

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