Moving production would have pleased playwright

Barbara Frame
Barbara Frame
"I’d rather see you dead at my feet than sinning against the Light!"

So says Paul Marshall to teenage son Simon. On their isolated, marginal farm, life is governed by hard work, fear of the devil and the rigid principles of the Bunyanesque sect to which the family belongs.

The Devil and Mr Mulcahy combines the intensity of Greek drama with the realism and vernacular of 20th-century New Zealand, and demonstrates the potential of good intentions to collide and lead to tragedy. It’s now over 50 years since Patric and Rosalie Carey began to produce James K. Baxter’s plays at the Globe, and this revival, excellently directed by Paul Ellicott, brings Baxter’s work to audience members old enough to remember those legendary days, and to those young enough for his writing to be something of a revelation.

Every performance is superb: Peter Hocking as Paul, the true believer who rules his family in the manner of a kindly but violent Old Testament patriarch; Denise Casey as wife Brenda, whose conviction is less absolute and yearns to dance as she did in her younger days; Joseph Cooper as Simon, trapped in his father’s expectations and feverishly constructing his own theology; Ella Yiannett as sister Rachel, trying to make sense of the family’s conflicting certainties. Barney Mulcahy, the farmhand whose rough decency and easy tolerance ("You can’t mix religion with boozing ... well — I like booze") propel the play to its powerful, shocking conclusion is played by Brook Bray.

At Friday night’s opening of the short season, the theatre was packed and the audience visibly moved.

Referring to the 1967 production, Baxter wrote of his justified trust in an "inspired and sympathetic producer".

I think he would have been equally pleased this time. 

- Barbara Frame

 

The Devil and Mr Mulcahy

Globe Theatre, Friday, June 8

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