Twenty years ago America was rocked by the Monica Lewinsky scandal (famously not named the ‘Bill Clinton’ scandal), one of the most notorious and complex political sex scandals of all time. Emerging during the birth of the digital revolution, the context that the story sits in was as poignant as it was catastrophic for those involved. In an optimistically progressive time where discourse around misuse and corruption of power is rife, Devil With The Blue Dress focusses on this scandal but provides a platform for an all-female perspective on both historic and recent cases of abuse of power. A First Lady, a secretary, a daughter, a confidant and an intern take us behind the closed doors of the White House during this tumultuous time, and explore a nuanced and layered version of the events from 1998. As their perspectives clash and intersect, more questions are ultimately raised than answered.
Hilary Clinton (played by Flora Montgomery) well and truly ‘owns’ this self-aware play, laying down her authoritative narration from the outset, but as the play progresses chronologically we witness a complicated back and forth dialogue between the five women’s perspectives, values and personal implications against the actions of the most powerful man in the world. Montgomery plays Hilary with authenticity and pragmatism, and in her more emotional moments she compels the audience to feel the pain and anguish with her. Daniella Isaacs is engaging and dynamic as Monica, and captures her naïve and impressionable optimism and tenacity with brilliant force. However, given Monica’s position at the heart of the action, she sometimes lacks the dimensions and depth that the role demands. Chemistry between all five members of the cast is undeniably effective though, and the actors execute both the light and dark moments credibly and with careful attention to the real events the play is based on.
Both staging and costume (by Basia Binkowska) are intelligent and highly symbolic, and bring depth and visceral impact to poignant moments of the narrative. As the affair becomes public and the Clinton’s political and personal lives are under immense strain, the stage gradually becomes littered with objects that signify the messy and chaotic combination of evidence, lies, betrayal and distribution of information that added fuel to an already fierce fire. Pre-1998 news was consumed in either print, radio or television, and with the birth of the internet came the global accessibility of information that sealed Monica’s fate. Kevin Armento’s script is the star of the show, with writing that is provocative and layered with rich meaning that addresses not only the tabloid aesthetics of this story, but digs meaningfully into issues around gender roles, feminism, power and the complex notion of truth in a post-truth world.
Throughout the play, Bill Clinton’s voice is relayed by the women playing his various acquaintances, and each do a brilliant job of capturing his presence but providing the crucial distance so that he is a vehicle for the narrative, but not the focus. Hilary poignantly remarks how women can be objects of sex or power, and rarely both, and Devil With The Blue Dress forces us to ask important questions about the problematic concept of heroes and villains, how we respond to women seeking power and the men who misuse it, while also giving us an insightful perspective of those whose voices are all too often silenced or manipulated by the media.