The Devil and Mr Mulcahy
Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin
08/06/2018 - 10/06/2018
“This revival celebrates 50 years since James K. Baxter’s plays were produced at the Globe by Patric and Rosalie Carey.
Set in 1960s rural New Zealand, The Devil and Mr Mulcahy is an explosive play about the danger of isolation and fundamentalism, and the different ways people escape their grim reality. It follows the undoing of a rural New Zealand family and the failure of conservative values, showing what happens when a dog is put in a cage that is far too small for it” – Paul Ellicott, director.
R 16 – Adult content.Book tickets at http://www.globetheatre.org.nz/
Barney Mulcahy Brook Bray
Brenda Marshall Denise Casey
Simon Marshall Joseph Cooper
Paul Marshall Peter Hocking
Rachel Marshall Ella Yiannett
Stage Manager Paul Ellicott
Set Design Chris Vialle, Paul Ellicott
Set Construction Ray Fleury, Chris Vialle, Paul Ellicott
Lighting Design Brian Byas
Technical Operator Craig Storey
Costume Sofie Welvaert
Graphic Design Craig Scott (Self Destruct Studio)
Still Photography Miguel Nitis
Front of House Manager Leanne Byas
Rehearsal Assistant Lynne Keen
Guitarist Dylan Shield
1 hour 15 minutes. There will be no interval.
Effective revival of riveting classic
Review by Terry MacTavish 10th Jun 2018
Through the dark garden, under the old magnolia, along the new boardwalk into Dunedin’s Globe Theatre to find it rather surprisingly packed to the rafters, or rather lighting box, with a free seat only in front of said box, in the very back row. It looks set to be a most successful revival for this short winter-season play. The audience below throbs with anticipation, but will James K Baxter’s 1960s play still satisfy, or will a struggle to the death between human desire and religious fundamentalism appear outdated and melodramatic?
The fruitful friendship between the celebrated Burns Fellow and the Globe’s visionary director Patric Carey is the stuff of legend. “Without a sympathetic and inspired producer, I would not have written the plays,” stated Baxter. The Globe, at that time producing, incredibly, around 20 plays a year, made room for everything he wrote. The Band Rotunda was the poet’s first, typically controversial play, and shortly after that he produced a newspaper cutting he had been saving, about a murder within a family in a closed religious sect, living in a remote rural area. Carey immediately saw its potential and The Devil and Mr Mulcahy was the sensational result.
Has it lost relevance? Absolutely not as far as this audience is concerned. After all we’ve seen the Gloriavale documentaries, and are well aware of the power that doctrine and a charismatic leader can exercise over their followers. Even Shortland Street has been running a storyline on a cult known as the Followers of the Light. We understand yet more about domestic violence. Only today a son was acquitted of murdering his abusive father, who had just beaten his mother, dislodging her eye. And we’ve all been sixteen, “the age when the devil comes whispering beside your pillow… when the light’s turned out,” as Baxter’s fanatical patriarch puts it, revealing he knows the devil all too well himself.
Paul Ellicott, who impressed as the legendary All-Black in the Globe’s recent Finding Murdoch, here shows he has what it takes to be a fine director too. He has managed to give this gripping play a modern touch while retaining the passionate intensity and sense of impending doom. Yes, the plot is melodramatic, but the quiet realism in a series of intimate duologues helps us to engage with the characters and take their plight seriously. We are offered all the dark power of a Greek tragedy, each character with their own secret and violence always simmering just beneath the surface, but there are moments of pure fun and plenty of throw-away lines that have the audience chuckling. As Baxter says, the meat of a play can be in its jokes.
The minimalist set (by Chris Vialle and Ellicott), black curtains enclosing a corrugated iron shack, and simple authentic costumes (by Sofie Welvaert) serve well as a reminder of the poverty of the family’s hard existence. Without pretension the actors bring on the humble props they need – a washing line, for instance, with basket and laundry – and the scene is subtly altered. The atmosphere is enhanced by birdsong and the odd dog barking in the distance, with sudden flashes of red lighting when violence erupts.
The excellent cast does full justice to the text, not flinching from the lyricism of language influenced by liturgy. Peter Hocking is impressively autocratic, and utterly unreasonable as Paul Marshall, the father, damaged by losing his inheritance to his elder brother (spot all the biblical allusions!) but now convincing himself he will be one of the precisely 142,000 who will be saved. The most pitiful thing is that he does not want to lose his family and actually loves the son he is destroying.
Denise Casey’s lovely musical voice is a little soft for the back row, but she gives his gentle wife, Brenda, a mind of her own, and her attempts to instruct her daughter in the world outside are charming, as is her dancing. (Strange how disturbing dancing is to a rigid mind – my dancer mother was denounced for introducing dance to worship by one furious male thus: “I go to church to hear of hellfire and damnation, not to be tempted by women’s legs!”)
Simon, the son who has been “brought up to think that everything that’s natural in him belongs to the devil”, has reached adolescence knowing no women but his mother and adored sister. Torn between his father’s harsh creed and his burgeoning sexuality, he has constructed a liberal personal theology around an imaginary hawk, Golden Eye, just as the troubled son of religious mother and porn-watching father in Peter Shaffer’s Equus created a religion with a horse as godhead. Joseph Cooper gives Simon poignant credibility, his painful eagerness to believe in his father and please him at odds with his carnal desires and his need to understand more of life.
As his meek sister, Rachel, Ella Yiannett is innocent and touchingly vulnerable, reminding me vividly of the Globe’s original Rachel, Peggy Jowett. She is as sweet but fragile as the little lame sister of The Glass Menagerie. It is surely no coincidence that Baxter and Carey loved Tennessee Williams.
The plum name role however, the character Barney Mulcahy, the farm’s Irish odd-job man, goes to Brook Bray, who gives him a warmth that is at the heart of the play’s success. I doubt there was any such person in that newsclipping. It is almost as if Baxter wanders into his own play, giving the kindly advice to Simon he would like to have been able to give. Bray pleases himself and us with delightful laid-back delivery of quips like his response to Simon’s confession of masturbation: “If it was the devil, then there’s not a man living that’s free of him.” I am fascinated by Baxter’s theory that an Irishman, if he does not hate himself, seems to be a Māori in disguise. Certainly it is aroha that Mulcahy shows to the desperate boy, and to his lonely mother, and it is the stuff of true tragedy that ironically this is what will precipitate the catastrophe.
The Devil and Mr Mulcahy has been a wonderful choice for the Globe’s winter season of short plays each with only three performances. The enthusiastic audience clearly appreciates the chance to see this riveting classic, revived so effectively by Ellicott and his cast, and it would seem a pity if there are not more performances while the actors still recall their lines. It’s worth the price of a ticket just to hear Mulcahy’s account of the heady excitements of exotic Temuka!
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Still in shock as we are from the abrupt and deeply distressing closure of the Fortune, it is comforting to reflect on the number of times the Globe (not to mention the Mayfair, the Regent, the Playhouse, the Athenaeum…) has been saved at the last minute, because we had warning in time, and because we in Dunedin actually do want theatre, we need theatre.
Baxter himself identified the two elements needed for a permanent and effective theatre centre in any New Zealand town: “The first is the existence of a group of dedicated people with the dramatic experience, insight and intellectual calibre necessary to go on producing good plays while audiences fluctuate.” Yes, Jim, we have it! Under the banner of Stage South, that is what Dunedin’s professional theatre community has formed, with strong links to the university and established amateur theatre.
Baxter’s second requirement, a building to stage the plays, is what faces us now. I earnestly hope the present warm spirit of co-operation can be maintained; that we remember how the theatre groups of Dunedin have always shared spaces; that despite some wranglings over grants, the Southern Comedy Players and the Globe often combined resources; that WoW! Productions has experimented with many different venues; that enthusiastic young companies from Counterpoint to Suitcase perform anywhere and everywhere.
In fact our first production for the Fortune, The Philanthropist, was right here in the Globe in 1973, directed by Huntly Elliot but generously supported by Patric Carey, as we attempted to see if we could mount a show in the three weeks demanded by professional theatre, and of course the Fortune’s home for many years was the Athenaeum, with the Regent used for larger productions. I am cautiously confident that as long as we continue to support each other, professional theatre will continue to flourish in the spirit of the Careys and the Fortune founders.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer