REVIEW: Thomas Bernhard's THE PRESIDENT Retains A Resonance In The 21st Century

THE PRESIDENT

By: Apr. 19, 2024
REVIEW: Thomas Bernhard's THE PRESIDENT Retains A Resonance In The 21st Century
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Wednesday 17th April 2024, 7:30pm, Roslyn Packer Theatre Sydney

Sydney Theatre Company and Gate Theatre’s-production of Thomas Bernhard’s THE PRESIDENT arrives in Sydney following it’s Dublin season.  Directed by Gate’s Tom Creed, the political satire, translated by Gitta Honegger, from 1975 retains a relevance in the contemporary world of leaders that forget they govern democracies and are elected to serve the people.

REVIEW: Thomas Bernhard's THE PRESIDENT Retains A Resonance In The 21st Century The premise of THE PRESIDENT, which Austrian Bernhard wrote during a time of political assassinations in Western Europe and leaders of the revolutionary far-left militant group Baader-Meinhof Group, also known as the Red Army Faction, were being arrested, is that the President (Hugo Weaving) of a small European country has been facing assassination attempts from an Anarchist group.  The President and the First Lady (Olwen Fouéré) are preparing for yet another funeral of a casualty of the anarchists attempts on the President’s life as they get closer to their target.  The work is driven by the President and the First Lady’s thoughts and rants as the people around them are largely ignored as the self-absorbed duo have become so arrogant and entitled that they have forgotten that they are supposed to be serving their country, not their own ambition and libido.

REVIEW: Thomas Bernhard's THE PRESIDENT Retains A Resonance In The 21st Century Designer Elizabeth Gadsby has created a modern minimalist expression of luxury, placing the presidential palace’ dressing room in a glass walled space with two simple dressing tables being flanked by their own clothes stands, ready for maid Mrs Frolick (Julie Forsyth) to lay out the President and First Lady’s outfits for the upcoming funeral.  The glass box transforms to the President’s holiday escape on the Portuguese Riviera in the Casino hotel on the Estoril Coast with a shift in lighting and an expansive backdrop.  While Creed’s direction and Bernhard’s text keep the scenes focused on the monologues rather than the character’s interplay with their environment, Sinead Mckenna’s lighting design plays a bigger role between scenes, pairing with Stefan Gregory’s music and sound to intensify with each Act.  Gadsby’s costuming is in straight forward for the most part with mourning black for the First Lady and military regalia for the President and his new bodyguard, another Colonel (Tony Cogin) while Mrs Frolick’s choice of attire, when insulted and instructed to change, remains a standout for its absurdity. 

REVIEW: Thomas Bernhard's THE PRESIDENT Retains A Resonance In The 21st Century Olwen Fouéré and Hugo Weaving as the First Lady and President are strong performers, leaning into the madness, paranoia, and self-absorption with calculated ease. They capture the worst of the entitled elitist egomaniacs as Weaving’s President talks of his rise to power, blind to the fact that he no longer serves his country as his focus is on his young mistress, and Fouéré’s First Lady is so cruel and condescending while being convinced that her estranged child has sided with those seeking to eliminate the President.   

REVIEW: Thomas Bernhard's THE PRESIDENT Retains A Resonance In The 21st Century The minor roles of The Actress (Kate Gilmore), Mrs Frolick (Julie Forsyth), the Colonel (Tony Cogin), and other doubled roles performed by Danny Adcock, Helmut Bakaitis and Alan Dukes are driven by their physicality rather than dialogue as it is rare that the President and the First Lady stop for long enough for anyone else to speak.  Kate Gilmore does a perfect calculating bimbo appearing to hang on her sugar-daddy’s every word, at least when he’s looking, nodding off when he’s in full self-absorbed rant.  Tony Cogin adds light comedy in his repetition of a dutiful military man well-conditioned as to what behaviors are expected of him.  Julie Forsyth has the greatest role of the peripheral characters as Mrs Frolick serves as Lady’s maid and valet to the First Lady and the President.  Rarely able to respond vocally, Forsyth ensures that the exhausted servant’s feelings are clear through her facial expressions that contradict the physical compliance and acquiescence, particularly when dealing with the ever insulting and demeaning First Lady.

REVIEW: Thomas Bernhard's THE PRESIDENT Retains A Resonance In The 21st Century While Bernhard wrote THE PRESIDENT almost half a century ago, his characterization of his fictional political leader and first lady don’t seem all that implausible when compared to the probable behavior of some of the world’s recent leaders.  There are leaders that refuse to accept their time in power is over, those that have been known to treat workers with disrespect, those that have allowed their personal lives to detract and distract from politics and serving the citizens of their country and those that feel they are above judgment.  A political satire that holds a range of themes and one very unorthodox conclusion.

https://www.sydneytheatre.com.au/whats-on/productions/2024/the-president

Photos: Daniel Boud

REVIEW: Thomas Bernhard's THE PRESIDENT Retains A Resonance In The 21st Century



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