Dunedin tale of shady dealings

Actor Tom Clarke as Mr Pilgrim. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Actor Tom Clarke as Mr Pilgrim. Photo: Gerard O'Brien

Beware — the "fraudsters, con-men and charlatans" will be out in Dunedin tonight.

The Arts Festival Dunedin’s season of the The Devil’s Half-Acre begins at the Fortune Theatre at 8pm.

The play is set in Dunedin in the 1860s and the two central characters, Jack and Dylan, are con-men who make a living from performing card tricks, such as Three-card Monte.

Director Hannah Smith said the research for the play, co-written with  Ralph McCubbin Howell, included reading early issues of the Otago Daily Times.

Many articles mentioned card tricks performed by "fraudsters, con-men and charlatans" wanting their share of gold-rush riches.

For the show, packs of playing cards have been produced with picture cards featuring characters in the play.

The queen of hearts is prostitute and barmaid Scarlett, who lives in the Devil’s Half-Acre, a Dunedin slum bounded by Princes,  Maclaggan and Maitland Sts.

The jack of hearts is Jack, the king of hearts is Dylan, and the king of spades is the first Otago Daily Times editor, Sir Julius Vogel.

Playing cards representing The Devil’s Half-Acre characters (from left) former Otago Daily Times...
Playing cards representing The Devil’s Half-Acre characters (from left) former Otago Daily Times editor Sir Julius Vogel, Jack, Scarlett and Dylan.

Tonight’s show  is a sell-out and some of the ticket-holders include past and present ODT editors and Allied Press management.

The ODT, which sponsors the play, has reproduced an edition from 1864 which includes an editorial by Sir Julius on the debate on Separation from the North Island.

On the day, the edition cost readers threepence  but the newspaper is giving  everyone who attends the show a free copy.

Ms Smith said the show premiered in Wellington but it was more exciting to perform it in its "home" of Dunedin.

"The show is peppered with local references to the geography of the city, and that stuff was meaningless to a Wellington audience. It will have a texture and a depth here."

After the Dunedin run she wanted to put the southern story on as many North Island stages as possible.

But before that, southerners should see it. "Come along for the ride. It’s a rollicking,  picaresque tale."


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