Bill Clinton Hercules at Park TheatreCultureTheatre
This fantasy Ted Talk, which Bill Clinton argues rivals Tony Blair’s biographical play on at the West End, Doctor Faustus, is a treat to watch. It sparks politics, humour and satire, mixing personal history with a wider political past. The 42nd president’s performance is thought-provoking and utterly current. Politics is the art of performance, but this vision of the Man from Hope’s monologue is more than just another political speech, it is a chance to see beneath the veneer of the political persona. Bob Paisley enters the room with the poise and charisma of Clinton. He perfects his mannerisms, even his tone of voice, and is more than a caricature.
The performance’s strength lies in its subtlety. The only props are a leather armchair and a battered copy of Seamus Heaney’s The Cure of Troy. Lighting is effective, especially the use of a greyish blue spotlight that fades on as Clinton looks back to the failures of his past. The interweaving of soundbites from the political speeches of Kennedy and Obama effectively demonstrates history’s capacity to repeat itself.
The production is perfectly suited to the small and intimate setting of Park Theatre. Whilst it would not work in a larger arena, in this space it speaks to the audience on an individual level from an individual’s perspective. The writer, Rachel Mariner, succeeds in mingling myth with current affairs that vary from the refugee crisis to banker’s bonuses. Clinton presents himself as a modern Hercules and Odysseus, preaching the benefits of a larger perspective on life and confessing his failures.
With its references to the Odyssey, it becomes an ode to the oral storytelling of the past. Clinton reflects on Martin Luther King’s ability to create a reality with the force of his wordsv – nothing could sum up this play better. At only an hour and 20 minutes in length, it is both impactful and compact. Theatre encourages us to think about what is happening in the world rather than telling us how to think. It is not meant to be a news report but a dialogue between the performance and the audience’s interpretations: this is active theatre at its best. As Clinton waves to the audience, shaking the hands of members of the front row, it feels as if the real man is in the room.
Bill Clinton Hercules is on at Park Theatre from 17th May until 11th June 2016. for further information or to book visit here.