Photos – Daniel Boud

Ambition. Fear. Hate.

These three words run like a mantra through the opening act monologue of Thomas Bernhard’s The President, a play that could be called prescient if the precedent hadn’t been set millennia ago.

Megalomania, hubris and paranoia have been part of the political landscape since the ascendancy of the ruler, the anointing of the chief, the herding of the hoi poloi, and those traits are in full flight from the beginning of this play.

The First Lady of the regime is in her dressing room haranguing her maid, Mrs. Frolick, about anarchists whose assassination attempt on her husband has left her beloved dog dead. No matter that her husband’s 2IC, The Colonel was killed in the attack, the demise of the dog is the great tragedy. It is a stream of cyclic vitriol against all those she perceives as a threat including her own son and Olwen Fouéré gives full flight to this harridan whose marriage to the President is a shell and who finds spiritual solace in a palace chaplain and physical satisfaction with a sausage manufacturer.

Act Two is set in a prime Portuguese holiday resort where the President is in residence with his actress mistress. The President, like Arturo Ui, is at once hysterically funny and utterly repulsive, and Hugo Weaving plays it to the hilt, drunk on power, drunk on words, and drunk on champagne, belching gas and noxious narcissism, blowing cigar smoke with the same blow-hardiness as his toxic masculinity.

The tragedy of the contemporary comes across like thunder in this performance of self aggrandisement, an almost trance like rant, Trump type tripe tripping from the tongue, dripping off the lips in a solid patch of rhetoric.

My country is too small for my governance, the world is not enough is his delusion of grandeur. This president is a piss-pot potentate, a despotic dictator, a despicable human.

Other members of the cast, Danny Adcock, Helmut Bakaitis, Tony Cogin, Alan Dukes, Julie Forsyth, superb in silent effrontery as Mrs. Frolick, and Kate Gilmore hardly get a word in, but bring forth all manner of droll and imaginative bits of business.

Stefan Gregory’s Music & Sound is full of fury signifying something wicked this way comes by the thrumming of his drums.

Event details

Sydney Theatre Company presents
The President
by Thomas Bernhard | translated by Gitta Honegger

Director Tom Creed

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney NSW
Dates: 13 Apr – 19 May 2024
Tickets: $155 – $80

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