Monday, 23 May 2016

Review Absolution and Bill Clinton Hercules (double bill)

by Owen O'Neill
Bill Clinton Hercules
by Rachel Mariner

Sorry Is The Hardest Word

A double bill of monologues, both directed by Guy Masterson, at the Park Theatre which made an impact at the Edinburgh Festival. There is some rhyme and reason for yoking these two together despite the different subject matter.

If Absolution was pitched as a film, despite its hook in real life tragedies and crimes, it would seem like a traditional tale of revenge with plenty of blood and gore. But it's not a film, it's a one man theatre piece written and performed by Owen O'Neill. 

It's a strange, unsettling show, all the more because there is the tiniest, thinnest, delicate skein of dark humour running through it, relying on our knowledge of movie tropes.

The set designed by Sarah June Mills is simple - it could be a prison cell or a room in a high security hospital. A disembodied porcelain sink with a mirror stands on one side, almost like a surrealist painting. 

An iron bed, a side table with a pot of flowers and placed at the front of the stage an old fashioned wooden school desk, the type with an ink well and a lid that flips up to store school text and exercise books.

And our ears are assailed by Johnny Cash's "Further On Up The Road" as O'Neill enters and proceeds to test himself with a series of energetic press ups and a martial arts' move. 

This is not a show for the faint-hearted with the self-appointed avenger of child abuse describing in graphic detail the killing of priests whom, he says, are paedophiles.

Despite its well-worn, although always - to say the least - tragic, subject matter, this is a engrossing monologue. Not least because TLT and her little car were left, in a healthy way, unbalanced by its tone.

It does not diminish the corruption, terror and damage caused by institutional cover ups. The whole  village where everyone is aware of what is going on and many, especially the women, feel guilty but noone does anything. It is like a years-old rite of passage, albeit also a rite of unspeakable torture..

Yet is it also slyly guying the fact that even child abuse can be changed into a commercial commodity for an audience, vigilante avenger meets child abuse? 

When these crimes were open secrets allowed to continue for so long and the human products born of these crimes against boys and girls in plain sight?

Maybe it has taken the age of the internet and communication between victims, impossible before, to expose the lunacy of the situation personified in this gripping monologue. 

A green light for the clear-eyed performance from Owen O'Neill  with hidden depths.

Bill Clinton as a modern day Hercules is an attractive hook, as wife Hilary's bid for the White House gains momentum and he find himself, potentially, a future president's spouse. 

Bill Paisley plays the main man loathe to leave behind his central position in world politics with late poet's Seamus Heany's adaptation from Sophocles, The Cure At Troy as part of his credo.

So far, so good but somewhere between a good idea and the performance of American Rachel Mariner's script for Bill Clinton Hercules, something gets lost. Clinton, we are told in the blurb, is grasping his opportunity to give his own TED talk.

Maybe Mariner, as a former lawyer on the Bill Clinton team in Clinton v Jones,  felt too  constrained in dealing with a still-living non fictional politician, formerly a client. While TLT and her own motorised advisor pride themselves on being attentive listeners, Bill Clinton Hercules felt difficult to follow. 

We caught points where the parallels to the poem were made but this did not make this piece more fluent. Maybe it would have been more meaningful if we had known Sophocles's play Philocletes or Heany's poem. 

There a run down of his childhood and other biography while ex-intern Monica Lewinsky and Alan Greenspan, former president of the Federal Reserve during the disastrous policies on sub prime mortgages both get more than a look in. Nevertheless the monologue itself was rather pedestrian, despite the best efforts of Paisley.

Still, reserving the politician's right to be economical with the truth,  we can now tell people we got to shake hands with Bill Clinton and a glimpse of his study with leather padded chair. An amber light.

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