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Saturday, July 8, 2017


(James Cairns)

An outstanding production and features a tour-de-force performance by James Cairns. (Review by Keith Millar)

Shel Silverstein was an American poet, singer-songwriter, cartoonist, screenwriter, and author of children's books.

Among his considerable output was the epic one-act play written in classic iambic pentameter, called The Devil and Billy Markham. It is a study of the nature of good and evil in man, and was first published in 1979 by Playboy magazine.

The production was brought to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown by the Contagious Production Company. It features the excellent Johannesburg actor, James Cairns, with direction by his regular collaborator, Jenine Collocott.

Cairns, who is acting in three one-hander productions at the festival this year, is a festival regular. He is also a regular winner of Ovation awards. The Devil & Billy Markham has already won an Ovation Award for 2017.

The Devil & Billy Markham is a raw, gritty story which is thoroughly deserving of its 16+ age group rating.

Silverstein’s epic poem details the odyssey of a down-and-out singer/songwriter, Billy Markham, and his confrontation with the devil. In the story, he journeys to Hell and to Heaven and then back again. He may have nothing in life, but there is no way Billy Markham will turn down a game of dice – even if it is with the devil.

As the story unfolds we meet some colourful characters which includes the dice playing Devil, God as a pool hustler, Markham's agent Scuzzy Slezzo and, of course, Billy Markham himself.

James Cairns puts in a stellar performance in performing this one-hander. Not only does he create all the characters but he does so using American deep south accents while delivering the very descriptive, hour-long, rhyming script. It is a superb effort and he pulls it off with considerable style and poise. I particularly liked his interpretation of the rather camp devil.

Dramatic lighting along with appropriate music are used for scene changes. Excerpts from Highway to Hell and Stairway to Heaven being two of them.

The Devil & Billy Markham is an outstanding production and features a tour-de-force performance by James Cairns.

The final performance of this production takes place today (Saturday July 8) at 11h30 in Princess Alice Hall in Grahamstown.

One can only hope that one day shows such as this will make an appearance in Durban. Then, of course, there is the Hilton Festival. – Keith Millar