All The President's Men (National Theatre)

 

 

A one-off staged reading performed at the Vaudeville Theatre, London 

 

Staged: 24th April 2017 .

Written and directed by Nicolas Kent (Artistic Director of the Tricycle Theatre, 1984- 2012). Produced by the National Theatre.

In January, one week before the President’s inauguration a fierce fight erupted in the Senate between Republicans and Democrats over the confirmation of the key figures for President Trump’s cabinet.

These four powerful men lead the Trump administration’s policy on Russia, the Middle East, Iran and North Korea, on human rights worldwide, on the Paris Climate control agreement, as well as on the civil rights and the health of millions of Americans. They are: Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon/Mobil, nominee for Secretary of State responsible for America’s foreign policy; Jeff Sessions, a leading campaigner for the President and now his chief law officer; Dr Tom Price, a strident critic of Obamacare and nominee for Health Secretary; and Scott Pruitt, a climate change sceptic nominated as Director of the Environmental Protection Agency.

In front of four separate Senate committees the nominees were subjected to tough and relentless cross-examination. They were questioned forensically about their ethics, beliefs and political philosophies. Each of them had to fend off accusations ranging from corruption to deceit or racism. 

These gripping and dramatic verbatim Senate sessions probed their fitness for office, and give us a vital insight into the future policies and direction of a Trump Presidency.

Nicolas Kent’s previous work includes Guantanamo, The Riots and Another World – losing our children to Islamic State.

More info here.

★★★★ The Guardian, Michael Billington:

'One of the most exciting things to happen recently in British theatre has been the development of tribunal plays, based on verbatim testimony, at London’s Tricycle from 1994 to 2012. Now Nicolas Kent, who did so much to pioneer the form, has resurrected it to air the US Senate’s confirmation hearings of four of Donald Trump’s key political appointees. The result, jointly presented by the National Theatre and New York’s Public Theater, was given a one-night rehearsed reading that left me torn between admiration for the American democratic process and despair at the fitness for office of the candidates themselves.

Listening to the hearings, we obviously have the benefit of hindsight. We now know that Sessions has been accused by Democrats of lying under oath in claiming he had no meetings with Russian officials during the campaign: in fact, he twice met with the ambassador, Sergei Kislyak. Even without the known facts, the way Sessions parades every member of his family in front of the committee grates on the nerves.

But two things, aside from the dubious nature of the nominees, struck me forcibly. One was the loquacity of many of the senators who, by their long-windedness, often let the candidates off the hook: a colleague assures me the same thing often happens in our own select committees. The other was that the real stars are those whose names we know well.

Elizabeth Warren (Sinéad Cusack) brilliantly skewers Price by asking him whether he had introduced bills helpful to companies in which he had bought stock. Bernie Sanders (Phil Davis) similarly nails Pruitt by asking direct questions such as “Why is the climate changing?” And Dianne Feinstein (Siân Phillips) devastatingly asks whether Sessions will be an independent attorney general rather than an arm of the White House.

[...] directed by Kent, it has many benefits. It shows there is much to be said, in a democracy, for hearings into public appointments. It reminds us of the fallibility of Trump’s judgment.

It also confirms that theatre has the unique capacity to reveal politics in action. I just wish that these hearings, tightened and trimmed, could get more than a one-night stand in the West End.'

★★★★ The Upcoming, Catherine Sedgwick:

'If these hearings were fiction they would be comical, but they are tragically factual. Brilliantly reenacted by a cast of seasoned actors and well-known veterans such as Nathan Osgood, Phil Davis, Sinead Cusack, Peter Davison and Sian Phillips, the piece was stunningly real. The questioning was brilliantly precise and engrossingly astute, perceptive, penetrating and at times stingingly witty.

An impressive work and an important statement about a highly alarming and dangerous situation, All the President’s Menshould be performed not once or twice, but often. It needs to be seen.'

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