Edinburgh Fringe 2015
‘Bob Paisley’s take on Clinton is a subtle re-evaluation of a man who’s ambitions, fears and reflections are less like Hercules and more like the American Caesar.’
Bill Clinton Hercules is a fascinating character study of former U.S President Bill Clinton played by Bob Paisley. A one-man show possessed of immense insight, research and talent.
It’s impossible to watch this show without an appreciation for the scale and research that goes into studying William Jefferson Clinton. I’m choosing my words carefully for Clinton, for like every American president before and since he suffers the globalisation of personality. Who they are in their own country goes through a constant kaleidoscope of change in the media that by the time it reaches the shores of foreign lands is a diluted, warped character. To get through that, to make a ubiquitously recognisable but fresh character is skilful.
Paisley plays a strangely forthcoming Bill Clinton, taking the audience through a half-internal dialogue, half talk-show reflection of his life. Right from the start, Paisley dawns a superb Clinton persona, right down to the easy swagger and Alabama drawl. Remove the stage and have him sit in the audience and it’s not difficult to imagine the Clinton backslap and practised repertoire. Paisley plays the easy, relaxed charm of Clinton with panache and disconcerting ease which, in combination with a script that has him explaining his purpose with messianic zeal, is a man of destiny who brings peace.
According to the real Clinton, every year he re-reads Seamus Heaney’s The Cure at Troy, an adaptation of the Ancient Greek play Philoctetes. Little effort is made to conceal that Paisley’s Clinton thinks himself a Hercules, on this Earth to bring peace through unity. ‘I am Hercules’, says Clinton as he talks here about global conflicts. Indeed, writing Paisley’s Clinton immediately brings to mind his role in the Northern Ireland peace process.
It would be remiss not to mention Clinton’s wars. The real man’s military legacy is, again like his fellow office-bearers, split between wars and military events. What Paisley gets completely right is not so much a Hercules but a Caesar. Clinton’s inner thinking is a man wrought with the fear, the ambition; the sheer humanity of holding the awesome consolidated power of the U.S presidency.
The results then are mixed. In the public memory of Clinton, he was a softly spoken but passionate advocate of his office. The accent has been parodied a thousand times as much Nixon’s flabby cheeks. There’s a hint of the drunk Nixon confessional; a need to be understood and to justify. In Clinton’s case, there’s a faux tragedy in that he’s stuck between his own creations: the defence of hawkish American policies and the envy of his wife’s presidential ambition to transform the world like he tried to.
Ultimately, this is facsimile but never a vaudeville Bill Clinton. If the chicanery and duplicity of a man who is otherwise widely regarded abroad, but for the odd personal faux pas, is something that you think is worth exploring, this is for you. The analysis that lingers after the performance is why audiences should flock to it. The questions raised about its context are as many strengths as weaknesses, guaranteeing that audiences reflect and re-evaluate who Bill Clinton really is.