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Devil With the Blue Dress review at the Bunker, London – ‘never quite ignites’

Daniella Isaacs and Flora Montgomery in Devil With the Blue Dress at the Bunker, London. Photo: Helen Murray Daniella Isaacs and Flora Montgomery in Devil With the Blue Dress at the Bunker, London. Photo: Helen Murray

Kevin Armento’s play takes the form of a narrative tug-of-war. The five women at the centre of the Clinton-Lewinsky sex scandal that rocked the presidency in the late 1990s each put forward their version of events.

Hillary kicks things off by creating the frame within which the story will be told. Monica, Chelsea Clinton, Betty Currie, the president’s secretary, and Linda Tripp, Monica’s confidante, who it would turn out, was in the habit of recording their private conversations, all join the tussle.

Though she was in her early 20s when the relationship began, Monica (capably played by Daniella Isaacs) clings to the idea that she had a degree of control in the affair. Other characters question this, given that he was the most powerful man in the world at the time. Then the backing curtain of Basia Binkowska’s set falls away to reveal Clinton’s famous statement: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” The play proceeds to pick over these words and their impact.

Armento’s play does a good job of providing the context and documenting what happened, while wading into the waters of consent, coercion and complicity and exploring the emotional cost to all involved.

It’s a shame that Joshua McTaggart’s production does not find a more robust way to unpeel the play’s layers. The cast wields microphones, there is much business made of the donning and removing of clothes – especially that titular dress – and Tashomi Balfour plays saxophone atmospherically in the background but the production lacks dramatic dynamism. Despite its unarguable timeliness, foregrounding of the voices of women, and interest in the potential of theatre to tell this story, it never quite ignites.

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Timely, if dramatically flat, exploration of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and its political and personal impact