Review – Devil With The Blue Dress

The Devil With The Blue Dress. Images Helen Murray.

You did WHAT with a cigar?

Hillary Clinton and Monica Lewinsky met only once, according to reports, at a Christmas dinner when the young intern, who was having “sexual relations” with the president, shook hands with the cuckolded wife within a few feet of the smirking Bill.

But the affair, which began with a flirtatious remark in a White House corridor in 1995 and lasted, on and off, for three years, rocked a government and the repercussions probably, no, almost certainly, prevented Hillary from becoming president herself in 2017.

American playwright Kevin Armento has come up with a timely look at the affair with Devil With The Blue Dress which has just opened at London’s Bunker Theatre and I found it riveting.

For the #MeToo movement Armento doesn’t go far enough in hanging Bill Clinton out to dry.

Even the title appears to blame Monica for the affair but rather than a Devil she is surely yet another victim? I had nothing but sympathy for her.

The facts were that the 49-year-old former governor of Arkansas, now ensconced in the Oval Office, was the most powerful man in the world and already had a track record of allegedly cheating on his wife.

But Bill couldn’t keep his flies buttoned up and he enthusiastically embarked on another totally inappropriate liaison with an infatuated 22-year-old while publicly refuting the allegations.

How could she refuse the 42nd President of the United States when her job was on the line?

In the play Monica reels off a list of “scandals” that have hit US headlines and every one of them is named after the man involved. In her case the relationship has gone down in history as the Monica Lewinsky Scandal thanks to clever PR by both the Clintons and the West Wing.

The play is inspired by real events rather than verbatim testimony and it gives a voice to the key players – including Bill himself – through the performances of five women.

It’s rare to find strong leading roles for women in theatre so to discover five in the same play is a revelation.

At its heart are two compelling turns by Flora Montgomery as the cool, calculating and ambitious Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Daniella Isaacs as the loved-up Monica, who defended her lover to the end despite the White House and the Clintons closing ranks.

They are superbly supported by Kristy Philipps as daughter, Chelsea Clinton, Dawn Hope as Bill’s personal secretary Betty Currie and Emma Hardy as government employee, Linda Tripp, who all double as the president as and when required.

It’s Hillary’s narrative that opens Joshua McTaggart’s engrossing production. Talking directly to the audience she wants us to hear how the scandal affected her.

But Monica, painted the scarlet women in a devastating media campaign, offers the play’s emotional core. She’s fresh out of college, working as an unpaid intern in the most prestigious address in the world, and the President walks by.

He smiles and within seconds the incorrigible flirt has won a landslide victory.

The gossip mounts as the months roll on. Even Hillary hears it. Bill publicly denounces the accusations that he is having an affair – until he no longer has a choice.

You can’t help feeling that Hillary would have been far more successful in her own presidential campaign if she had showed more humanity.

In Blue Dress we see how her ruthlessness keeps her by her husband’s side, despite his confession of “sexual relations” with Monica Lewinsky.

Her single-minded actions were not to walk away from a disastrous marriage but to save a presidency.

Isaacs offers us an innocent and naive Lewinsky who had stars in her eyes. A young girl bowled over by a president who showered her with gifts and treated her appallingly – if only she could have seen it.

Montgomery’s authoritative Clinton only lets her guard down once, remaining in total control of both the narrative and her emotions for the bulk of the play.

Tashomi Balfour accompanies the performance on saxophone, and it’s terrific, but the choice of instrument gives the production a noirish feel from, say, the darkened jazz clubs of New York or New Orleans, rather than the clinical administrative corridors of the White House.

Devil With The Blue Dress – the title comes from a tawdry item of evidence that proves Bill Clinton’s infidelity – doesn’t offer up anything new about the scandal.

But it does proffer an awkward conversation that the two women may have had – should they have ever got together to hold an inquest into the incident and not just shaken hands at a Christmas party.

Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump et al are the accused du jour and you can’t help feeling that nothing has been learned. Could there be a greater cliché about powerful men corrupting, and taking advantage, of impressionable young women?

Devil With The Blue Dress runs at the Bunker Theatre until April 28.

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