by guest critic Amy Toledano
The political climate of 1990’s America may be something the world has largely forgotten, but playwright Kevin Armento certainly has no issue in reminding us of one of the country’s most memorable sex scandals. In his audacious new play Devil With The Blue Dress, Armento examines five women’s accounts leading up to – and resulting in – President Clinton’s impeachment in 1998. From the moment you set foot in the Bunker, you cannot help but be transported into what feels like the smoky underworld of dirty politics. This sensation can only be helped by saxophonist, and lone instrumentalist of the show, Tashomi Balfour, who underscores the entire piece with his smooth and often haunting melodies.
Within the first few moments Hilary Clinton (Flora Montgomery) emerges and sets the tone of the piece with a direct address to the audience that does not pull any punches. This is a play. This is Hilary’s play – her own story, and we are going to hear what really happened in the White House all those years ago. To help tell her tale are her daughter Chelsea (Kristy Philipps), former secretary to Bill Clinton, Betty (Dawn Hope) and Linda Tripp (Emma Handy) a Republican who plays a big part in unravelling White House secrets.
But of course, things cannot be that simple. There are many sides to this story and as Monica Lewinsky (Daniella Isaacs) makes her way onstage it becomes apparent that Hilary’s is not the only one we will be hearing.
Very much an ensemble piece, the actors are required to switch from one character to the next without so much as a moment’s notice, and they do so in such a polished and slick manner that it’s always clear who and where the characters are. In particular, Philipps, Hope and Handy all play President Clinton, which gives the entire show a dark undertone, as we get to witness the character of Bill in many forms, illustrating his ability to manipulate and mould the women who are depicting him.
Credit must go to director Joshua McTaggart, as the staging of the piece is inventive and imaginative – using the whole theatre for the characters to move and explore, and giving this exposition heavy piece breathing space. It allows the audience to see these people outside of the small boxes that they are so often placed in.
Lighting and sound also play a huge role in conveying the sinister sensibility of the show, with soft lights coming from below, above and behind the stage, along with a healthy dose of smoke effects which really transform the space.
The second act brings tensions to an all time high and the natural build of the piece is really lovely, but there is a slight sense of dragging in the last fifteen minutes where the piece feels like it comes to a natural close but then carries on. Due to the high amounts of information the audience is constantly digesting, the play should serve this natural ending. And while the last few moments of the show are pivotal in tying this story together, there could be slightly less conversation between characters who had already confronted one another.
Punchy, highly intelligent and at times laugh out loud funny, Devil With the Blue Dress absorbs you quickly, keeps you held throughout and in particular, really does make you question who to believe and how easy it is to judge matters we really know nothing about. Filled with fantastic performances, this is a show that really gets you excited about theatre and is not to be missed.
Devil With a Blue Dress runs through 28 April.
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