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Bill Clinton Hercules

Rachel Mariner with Guy Masterson
Guy Masterson & Theatre Tours International
Park Theatre (Park 90)

Bob Paisley as Bill Clinton Credit: Theatre Tours International

Rachel Mariner’s bio-play takes the form of a lecture by former US President Bill Clinton. Bob Paisley presents him as an urbane and laid-back speaker who has come a long way from his Hicksville beginnings in Hope, Arkansas, but clearly hasn’t forgotten them.

It was first seen on the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago, but is brought bang up to date with local and contemporary political references from Brexit to wife Hillary’s campaign for Democratic presidential nomination.

There is intimate revelation both personal and political from his bearded hippy days at the LSE, speaking out for peace in 1969, to his failure to realise where Alan Greenspan would take the US economy.

We hear how he brought sophisticated (and then Republican) Hillary to Britain and made his marriage proposed in the Lake District before she could be put off by meeting his plain-speaking mother (who kept a bust of Elvis Presley in her kitchen) and get his snow-bound version of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, as well as his struggles during the Kosovo conflict to stick to his ideals of diplomacy before succumbing to the “cold and cruel stalemate” of war, his inability to control Leon Panetta and the belligerent CIA whom he says see democracy as “just window dressing.”

Clinton shares ideas hopes, regrets and inspirations. He informs us that he regularly rereads Seamus Heaney’s dramatic poem The Cure of Troy, a retelling of the Philoctetes story, the hero with the magic bow and a suppurating snakebite left behind on Limnos.

From that he takes the open and honest Neoptolemus as his model, though wondering too whether he might also settle disputes as an incoming deus ex machina like Hercules, and as illustration he reads out several chunks of that play. He talks about his heroes: JFK, whose hand he shook when a teenager, Martin Luther King, Yitzhak Rabin and most of all Nelson Mandela. We get soundbites from all of them.

While on the one hand this is a lecture, the former 42nd President reminiscing, apparently relaxed and informal, it is also at the same time a campaign speech from the handshakes with the audience, its mixture of frankness and exhortation.

As it draws to the end of its 80 minutes, with him acknowledging Obama’s achievements but declaring Hillary would have done more, this element becomes more obvious and this charm offensive begins to become a little too long—but that probably mirrors exactly what this would be like in real life.

Bill Clinton Hercules is the second part of a double bill with Absolution, though each play can also be booked separately.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton