Absolution and Bill Clinton Hercules, Park Theatre, review: ‘From brilliance to the baffling’

Bob Paisley in Bill Clinton Hercules

Bob Paisley in Bill Clinton Hercules - Credit: Archant

There is an interesting double bill at the Park Theatre.

owen o'neill in absolution

owen o'neill in absolution - Credit: Archant

Two plays, two monologues and two middle-aged men.

One in a vest – the other, with steel-wool hair and an expensive suit, is Bill Clinton: the 42nd

President of the US, the man from Hope who tried to deliver hope.

This curious piece by Rachel Mariner clams to be based on Clinton’s autobiography and takes the form of the great man talking directly to and vigorously shaking hands with bemused audience members.

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In the opening 10 minutes, he re-tells Seamus Heaney’s The Cure at Troy which seems to be his guide to understanding life.

There follows an account of his childhood, his love of Hillary, being a hippie at the LSE, hope, being president, Great Men That I Have Met and the Great Things They Have Said, some more on hope, Monica – all of this referenced to The Cure which I found entirely baffling. Guy Masterson’s Clinton is far from convincing – he is too groomed, doesn’t have the rictus grin nor the hoarse squeak that Bill now affects.

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Like some in the audience, I was left baffled.

This was not a problem with the preceding play, Absolution, written and performed by Owen O’Neill.

Dealing with the darkest of taboo subjects (the systematic abuse of very young children in Donegal by Catholic priests), this was a brilliant piece of theatre that had the audience spellbound by O’Neill’s electric delivery and Guy Masterson’s sureness of direction.

In an intensely controlled and physical performance, O’Neill took us thorough the horrors of broken trust, manipulation, Church cover-ups, community denial, corrupted relationships and brutal murder.

At times there was a chilling matter-of-fact quality about the stories he was telling, occasionally peppered with some very dark humour.

This was theatre at its best – confrontational, shocking and technically superb.

The end was full of twists and revelations that you must go and see.

Absolution: 4/5 stars

Bill Clinton Hercules: 2/5 stars

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