Between Hillary and Monica, battle lines are drawn in Kevin Armento's Devil With The Blue Dress. But does its message land?

Hillary (Flora Montgomery) opens Devil With The Blue Dress with a quote about the theatre, one that quickly morphs into a parallel between the stage and the political battleground. It’s expositional and, combined with Tashomi Balfour‘s saxophone solo that pervades the piece, a touch indulgent. But you can forgive this introductory narrative, for it presents the characters who will provide an account as to the affairs between Monica Lewinsky (Daniella Isaacs) and Bill Clinton (played by various members of the all-female ensemble). This is Hillary’s story, except of course when Monica enters, determined to have her say.

Devil With The Blue Dress The Bunker Theatre

Daniella Isaacs & Flora Montgomery (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

But Kevin Armento’s work goes no further than a theatrical retelling. The tension between the two central characters is instantaneous and bristling; it details the power play between two women who are caught playing second fiddle to the misogynistic whims of a man, even one as supposedly moral as the President of the United States of America. This constant tug-of-war pervades the entirety of Devil With The Blue Dress, but never becomes anything more than a prescriptive account – one that tells without showing, without leaving the audience to draw conclusion or opinion. Armento’s script is detailed and plush, but it leaves no room for debate or discussion.

Devil With The Blue Dress The Bunker Theatre

(Image courtesy of Helen Murray)

The main issue with Devil With The Blue Dress is not in the script however, it’s that the story forms the entirety of the vision for the production. We lack direction and movement, as we trudge through this dense narrative in a non-linear fashion. Each character comes to stage to contribute and re-enact their involvement, but apart from this there is no tangible reason as to why this particular tale finds any necessity in being a live theatrical experience. Joshua McTaggart allows his actors to get under the skin of their characters, yes, but save for a solo saxophone (which may be less distracting if it were recorded) and some artistic merit from Basia Bińkowska’s set, there is no directorial vision to galvanise this show. The tension is too sparse – a powerfully delivered monologue by Betty (Dawn Hope) and a verbal spat between the two protagonists aside – the pacing too sporadic to merit this as an organic, breathing interaction between cast and audience.

Daniella Isaacs & Dawn Hope (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

What we lack in artistic imagination, we somewhat make up for in some strong, assured performances. Hope is a scene stealer in her characterisation, the secretary that sees all and says nothing. Montgomery paces and prowls the stage like a lioness with Hillary’s restrained ferocity but fails to let in loose in the climactic moments that conclude each act. Isaacs is the naïve, unlucky mistress, determined at long last to let her side be known, with a steely gaze and an intensity that says she has nothing to lose. All five actors are competent and intriguing to watch.

The merit in Devil With The Blue Dress is that its message rings out true – the man is equal party to both the sin and the strategy to scapegoat, yet his physical absence in this production shows how he is not tarred with the same brush as the two women. But apart from this cemented concept, Devil With The Blue Dress fails to connect, deliver or provide sufficient theatrical atmosphere. Instead, it plays itself out more like a half-hearted audiobook.

 

 

★★☆☆☆

Devil With The Blue Dress runs at The Bunker until 28 April 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.