Pros: Some interesting insight into an historical political scandal and how it impacted Hillary’s subsequent presidential campaign.
Cons: The complete lack of tension or drama left the whole thing feeling more like a documentary.
Everyone of a certain age remembers Monica Lewinsky, or at least the scandal that will forever accompany her name. And we all recall the stained dress that gives this play its title. The only question then is who is the devil here?
Devil With The Blue Dress examines the five woman at the centre of the scandal. So besides Monica, we have wife Hillary, daughter Chelsea, Bill’s Secretary, and finally Linda, Monica’s confidant and the woman who finally brought the scandal into the open. But it is Hillary who takes centre stage here.
She opens with talk of being in a play, describing what is to come as memory and dream. The memories are those scenes based on fact, the dreams reveal her imagination, and conversations between characters that could never really have taken place.
It’s a great concept, you have to wonder why it wasn’t written years ago. But it’s also a play that is so lacking in tension or drama that it meanders along, and feels as cold as Hillary’s public persona. The style simply fails to ignite things. As interesting as the subject matter may be, the dialogue heavy scenes struggle to hold our attention. In the end it just feels like fact and conjecture pieced together in what could have been a documentary.
Another problem is focus. Despite the constant reminder that this is Hillary’s story, all too often focus drifts to the others. Yes, Monica Lewinsky clearly needs to play a central role, but you can’t base a play in Hillary’s mind and then let others wander in with their own thoughts. It almost feels as if the writer didn’t want any of the five to feel left out.
It’s not all bad though. It does make marvellous use of The Bunker space, scenes playing not only on the main stage but within the side seating areas as well. Then there is the lighting and the simple staging that are a credit to the director. The well-researched writing should be admired, but it seems that literary style triumphed over any real dramatic content.
As for the acting, some carry it off better than others in getting under the skin of their characters. Kristy Phillipps’ performance as Chelsea is stellar, as are her cameos as the President. There is surely a side career here as a female Bill Clinton impersonator, maybe alongside a female Elvis? Phillipps also provides the one real moment of drama as the imagined arguments of the other four become all too much and she explodes in anger to tell them how she feels. But even here it creates a problem with the narrative; if this is Hilary’s imagination then that scene surely should not exist? It does suggest that had the story been angled from Chelsea’s viewpoint it may have allowed for more drama and emotion.
As we head to its conclusion, Hilary and Monica argue over how damaged they came out of the scandal. Here finally is a glimpse of what the play wanted to say; the explanation of Hilary’s coldness, why she acted the way she did, why she didn’t leave her marriage even when the truth came out. The problem is, as interesting as these conclusions are, it’s too little too late to elevate this play beyond a piece of curiosity for those interested in this period of American political history.
Writer: Kevin Armento
Director: Joshua McTaggart
Producer: The Bunker Theatre, Desara Bosnja and Seaview Productions
Booking Until: 28 April 2018
Box Office: 0207 234 0486
Booking Link: https://www.bunkertheatre.com/whats-on/devil-with-the-blue-dress