Brisbane review - The History of the Devil: a novel, thought provoking journey
By David Wilson
The History of the Devil
By Clive Barker
Directed by James Kable
Presented by Polymorphic Productions
Photography by Emma Stratton
New Banner Theatre, Metro Arts
Season runs until 16 December 2023
The Devil wants to go back to Heaven, but first he must stand trial for his deeds on Earth. The History of the Devil was penned by Clive Barker, a well-known contemporary author, producer and director in the horror/fantasy genre. In this production by Polymorphic Productions, Barker’s unique premise is very well handled by the creative team and strong cast, and was met with a very appreciative audience on opening night.
At the outset I should point out that this is a long play - almost 3 hours in duration including intermission - but at no stage did time seem to drag, due in no small way to some excellent performances and a very clever script.
James Kable’s direction made full use of a very simple set, allowing the audience to focus on the relatively heavy dialogue and challenging roles. The sound, lighting and effects by Nathanial Knight and Ewan Robertson were particularly well done and added much to the mood at various points throughout.
One thing that is very evident with such a dynamic and dialogue heavy play is the significant amount of preparation and rehearsal time that must have been dedicated to the performance. There was barely a stumble, and timing was very, very good, quite an achievement considering that many of the actors performed multiple roles throughout the show.
The story itself is thought provoking, challenging and ultimately very enjoyable. It is certainly not the sort of play that the audience watches from afar, rather the audience was engaged on the journey throughout, at times through clever use of sound, lighting and effects, at times through the sophisticated evolving story line and at times through some excellent performances.
The undeniable star of the show was Connor Scoble as the Devil. From the moment he appeared Scoble absolutely commanded attention. His ultra-charismatic performance was top shelf, showcasing his excellent stage craft and physicality. His ability to capture the subtle nuances of the Devil throughout the ages and through different relationships was extremely powerful, with the audience’s emotions and feelings towards the Devil similarly shifting throughout. It was a very powerful performance, bookended by the majesty of the Devil’s arrival, and the horror of his departure. Fantastic.
Amongst a number of other very good performances, Ben Postle was outstanding. In addition to anchoring the show in a narrator type role, Postle performed many other varied roles extremely well. His on-stage energy with Scoble’s Devil was particularly evident when performing as Jack Easter and Jesus Christ, and his characterisation of both Dante and Macready were excellent. Of note, Postle brought much light and shade to his performance, including great use of variation in volume, contributing to his excellent stage presence.
Tiana Varco was particularly strong throughout her various roles, revealing excellent chemistry with Scoble, first as Pia Shim and later as Jane Beck. Thomas Eastwood showcased his range and was particularly engaging as Samuel Kyle, the Devil’s advocate. His performance as Mendoza was also notable as was his more tender portrayal of Georg Keipenhauer. Lisa Hickey’s experience and versatility were obvious as well, transitioning from hard-nosed prosecutor to frivolous teenager and dim-witted Duke of York with ease.
Alexis Beebe as Judge Popper was responsible for many of the funnier moments of the show, along with Zara Chandler as Milo Milo. Sherri Smith and Sandra Harman were both totally committed to their performances. Smith’s turn as Isobel Nider was particularly powerful and Harman displayed great range throughout her various roles, none better than as the Devil’s threatening henchman Verrier. And finally Cullyn Beckton showed strong characterisation as the Boxing MC.
A novel thought provoking journey handled very well by a strong creative team and talented cast. The History of the Devil by Polymorphic Productions is very enjoyable and I encourage you to see it.