Review: The Devil & Billy Markham

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The Devil and Billy Markham In our attention deficit times of social media and shiny screens, it’s becoming ever harder to hold someone’s attention for longer than 5 minutes. But, James Cairns seems to have made a deal with the devil in return for the power to hold his audience captive for one hour. One man, one stage and a few interwoven stories that will transport you all the way from the sulphurous pits of hell to the marshmallow clouds of heaven. When you’re spellbound by this treacherous tale of tricky, you’ll understand how James performs to sold-out crowds at the Grahamstown Festival.

The epic tale of The Devil and Billy Markham is based on a good ol’ country song by Bobby Bare which recounts the mad journey of seasoned gambler Billy Markham, and the most dangerous game of chance he’s ever played – that of challenging the devil. The beginning of the story stays true to the song, and then it becomes even more interesting. Written by the late Shel Silverstein and directed by Jenine Collocott, this one-man show is something truly noteworthy. Sticking to the rhythm of the original song, the greater story unfolds in the same rhyming pattern. Colourful language paints vivid images, with the mind’s eye filling in the details in a most delightful way. It becomes a journey through layers of existence, of humanity, of divinity, of sin and of suffering.

When one dances with the devil, one dances with a trickster. In that fashion, the plot develops and thickens into unexpected corners of light and dark. Because light and dark are pretty much the same things, aren’t they? At least, that’s what the devil told me.

Marilu Snyders

The Devil and Billy Markham runs at Kalk Bay Theatre until 21 July 2018. 

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