In an unnamed Western European nation, a President and First Lady recover in their private rooms after a failed  anarchist assasination attempt. The attempt killed the President’s closest ally, the Colonel, and the First Lady’s beloved dog. Their son is believed to be involved with the anarchist. Through the play both the President and the First Lady deliver extended, narcissistic monologues. For how long will they be able to stay in power before the anarchists storm the Palace?!

This latest STC production is, by a long shot, the most challenging and intriguing production I have seen so far this year.

Thematically it works on many different levels. At first, it comes across as  theatre of the absurd, and in a sense, it does retain this level through the play.

This take on the play however is problematic. These days, especially in America, the absurd is the reality. How can a country that is idealised as the symbol of democracy and the free world, seriously consider electing a man, who should, by any account, be in jail, to the highest office in the country?! Bizarre, and yet it is the reality!

Then there is the First Lady’s obsession with her beloved dog which has been killed in the latest attack by the anarchists. She has a large sized portrait painting of the dog which she holds in pride of place.

There has been, for a long time, a discourse running as to the love and devotion humans have for their animals. Dog pedicures, grooming, shampooing services abound. Heaps of dollars are spent in our pets whilst even in the centre of the city thee are homeless people begging for money to buy a coffee or a big Mac.

Then there is the absurdism of how we elect people that we believe are interested in our welfare. In the play the President and the First Lady are portrayed as having zero interest in the people who they are governing. Their entire interest is in holding on to power and the great lifestyle that this power gives. The President’s main interest lies in his romantic tryst with one of the country’s leading actresses.

I don’t want to give the play’s final scenes away but they are deeply ironic and challenge the audience.

Is this a case of  theatre of the absurd or do we just live in an absurd world?!

The production is first class with the cast and creatives a muxture of Australian and Irish talent. Hugo Weaving and Olivia Fouete head the cast with distinction. In the supporting roles Julie Forsyth as the maid and Kate Gilmore are the stand-outs.

The main feature of the work of the creative team seemed to me about creating as dark and foreboding tone as possible. Sinead McKenna’s lighting and Stefan Gregory’s music were instrumental to this. The frequent closing and opening of the stage curtain was another aspect to making this an uncomfortable theatre experience.

THE PRESIDENT doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

I expect that there will be vastly different responses to this play and suspect that  many people won’t like it.

Cast : Danny Adcock : Masseur, Officer, Attendant, Butcher, Helmut Bakaitis : Waiter, Ambassador, Officer, Tony Cogin – Colonel, Alan Dukes : Maid, Officer, Attendant, Chaplain, Julie Forsyth – Mrs Frolick, Olwen Fouere – First Lady, Kate Gilmore – Actress, Hugo Weaving – President

Creatives : Director – Tom Creed, Designer – Elizabeth Gadsby, Lighting Designer – Sinead McKenzie, Music and Sound Designer – Stefan Gregory, Movement Director – Danielle Micich, Dramaturg – Tom Wright, Associate Director – Ian Michael, Associate  Designer – Florentina Burcea

A Sydney Theatre Company and Gate Theatre Dublin production, Austrian playwright Thomas Bernhard’s THE PRESIDENT opened on Wednesday 17th April at the Roslyn Packer Theatre where it is playing until the 18th May 2024.

Production photography by Daniel Boud