Originally published on The Reviews Hub
Awarded 2 1/2 stars – Sentimental
A leather chair sits in front of distorted projections that evoke nostalgic memories of the 1990s. Bill Clinton is in the White House, Hillary at his right hand (how the tables have turned 20 years later). Palestine and Israel sign a peace treaty, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fight the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Monica Lewinsky results in an impeachment. One of these memories more likely sticks in the minds of different members of the public, a lasting impression of a Baby Boomer generation. Guy Masterson directs Rachel Mariner’s story of the rise and fall of the 42nd President, ‘the man from Hope’.
In Bill Clinton Hercules, Bob Paisley saunters on stage with a natural patter and friendly demeanour. A man from Arkansas, he instantly strikes a rapport with the audience, tongue in cheek and a lopsided smile. The next 90 minutes are an exercise in hope, in aspirations, and in putting the people first. Sappy and a touch sickening for the more reserved British palate, unsurprising given that Mariner draws heavily from Clinton’s autobiography in writing her script.
This isn’t purely a recollection of his life however, as Mariner also intertwines the Clinton rise to power in with a touch of Greek mythology. A river of imagery pours forth as Philoctetes, one of Sophocles’ surviving plays, is embedded into the Clinton story – at times a diplomat, at times a wounded soldier, at times an enraged king. Stories of the Presidency intermingle with these character traits as Paisley yearns to be more like the demi-god Hercules, who in this play holds company with the likes of JFK, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
A second play in a double bill at the Park Theatre sees a similar directing style emerge by Guy Masterson. Along with Absolution, Bill Clinton Hercules is a one-man show that puts the emphasis on the characterisation and the text. Simple sets ensure there are no distractions and the focus is on the actor to bring out their thoughts, feelings and ideals. Paisley in this gives a likeable performance, suitably opinionated and passionate. The whole script is awash with politically angled sound bites, the show a warped version of a campaign rally. The rollercoaster of emotions is present to get the audience on side before a rousing, climactic finish leaves everyone full of hope and joy. But Paisley stumbles over his words at times, doesn’t feel connected or confident of the material and easily loses momentum as a result. The text itself doesn’t help in giving a layered performance either, much more superficial and glossy than deep and meaningful.
Bill Clinton Hercules – one a leader of the free world, the other a Greek demi-god who shows unparalleled strength. This play, despite its best efforts, is not as inspirational as a leader nor as astounding as a god. For the most part, it’s simply a bit too overbearing.
Writer: Rachel Mariner
Director: Guy Masterson
Reviewer: Daniel Perks
Runs until 11 June 2016