Globe to mark Baxter's anniversary

Joseph Cooper, as Simon, and Ella Yiannett, as Rachel, during a rehearsal of The Devil and Mr Mulcahy at Dunedin’s Globe Theatre. Photo: Linda Robertson
Joseph Cooper, as Simon, and Ella Yiannett, as Rachel, during a rehearsal of The Devil and Mr Mulcahy at Dunedin’s Globe Theatre. Photo: Linda Robertson
Denise Casey, as Brenda, and Brook Bray, as Barney Mulcahy, during a rehearsal of The Devil and Mr Mulcahy. Photo: Linda Robertson
Denise Casey, as Brenda, and Brook Bray, as Barney Mulcahy, during a rehearsal of The Devil and Mr Mulcahy. Photo: Linda Robertson

Celebrated poet and playwright James K. Baxter was often found at the Careys’ dinner table. Chris Carey tells Rebecca Fox he is really pleased Dunedin’sGlobe Theatre is taking the opportunity to re-stage one of Baxter’s works, The Devil and Mr Mulcahy.

Seeing the ''Jesus''-looking character of James K. Baxter padding down Dunedin Hospital's hallway in his bare feet carrying fruit must have been a sight, Chris Carey says.

His enduring memory of the celebrated poet and playwright, is of Baxter visiting him in hospital when he was a child after he had his tonsils out.

''Jimmy was quite part of our lives. He always had an interest in us and he'd come see me and say hi.''

Carey is the son of Dunedin's Globe founders, Patric and Rosalie Carey, who attracted many of the artistic community in the 1960s to their home in London St.

So Carey has many memories of growing up alongside artists and writers such as Baxter.

Baxter came to Dunedin as a Burns Fellow in 1966 as a clean-shaven, erudite writer.

''Gradually over time he grew his hair and his beard. He almost became my father's lookalike.''

He became a regular around the Careys' dinner table, with some ''very intense sessions'' held during meal times.

''It was educational, I suppose. The plays came out of those sessions.''

Patric became Baxter's co-conspirator as he evolved from poet to playwright.

Much of those intense discussions centred around Patric's extensive knowledge of Greek theatre and myth.

''Jimmy was able to decipher those conversations and distil them into commentary through the plays he wrote.''

The Globe had a very definite programme of performing Greek plays in the early days.

''Both of my parents, but particularly my father, were really interested in the Greeks, so they were bringing him up to speed.''

Around the table were other artistic notables of the time, such as Ralph Hotere.

''I sat there without much choice, subjected to the myths and philosophy of the Greeks.''

The first book his father gave him to read at age 12 was Plato's The Republic.

''Not the most exciting read. It was thrown into the trash can by my teacher.''

He also has vague memories of Baxter appearing as a walk-on character in one of his father's Greek plays.

''He wasn't very good as I remember.''

However, he does remember Baxter throwing stones up to his second-floor bedroom to wake him up so he could tell his father he had finished writing some of his first plays.

''There he was in his pyjamas and slippers with a script rolled up in his hand.

''I'll never forget telling my father Jimmy was there but ... for my father Baxter was of no consequence at 7 in the morning. I was told to tell him to go away.''

Both his father and Baxter were very interested in New Zealand society and culture at the time, with their works reflecting that.

''Jimmy was a little more poetic; my father was straight up.''

They worked together on the plays to come up with a final draft.

''For contemporary New Zealand plays they were pretty radical.''

Baxter started to develop a following which Patric was pretty cynical about and often called on Carey to distract the entourage so the pair could go somewhere and talk uninterrupted.

Having had such first-hand knowledge of Baxter, whom he saw back then as a kindly uncle figure, he is pleased The Globe is re-staging Baxter's play The Devil and Mr Mulcahy.

''I'm really pleased they recognised this opportunity.''

Globe spokesman Keith Scott said it was decided to stage the play because of Baxter's close connection with the theatre in the 1960s.

''It's a nod to his legacy, to Patric and Baxter's friendship.''

The Careys first staged the piece in 1969 and it has been performed twice since then, the last time in 1991.

The play is set in 1960s rural New Zealand and based on a true-life court case involving a family's decent into chaos.

''He took this story of an apparent normal family with close loving relationships, yet underneath it all chaos was going on - and there was a religious sect involved.''

The play was seen to be ground-breaking work back then, ''quite shocking'' for many.

''It appealed to the protest generation, but the ''fur coat'' brigade did not like it.''

The Devil and Mr Mulcahy is being directed by Paul Ellicot and is part of The Globe's winter series.

Comments

Protesting in fur coats was the way. Patric Carey is in 'Jack Winter's Dream', film (1979).

Rosalie Carey was for many years a teacher and Arts patron of Wellington.

 

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