Adelaide Fringe 2014
An experiment in ethical thought, The History of the Devil is possibly Clive Barker’s most popular work for the stage. Initially offered by Barker for a performance license fee of USD$1, the play has been performed around the world by enthusiastic fans and seasoned theatre companies alike. Beating Heart Theatre Company fall somewhere in the middle, presenting a performance which may be a bit no-frills in its production values, but performed earnestly, with commitment and gusto.
This play is a familiar one; one of those old faithful staples of young theatre company seasons, like The Lieutenant of Inishmore, and Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. With a certain gothy appeal and a well known name, it adds a bit of corsettey flair for the trenchcoat set that’s still safe enough for more reserved audiences and you’ll find it on stages from here to Dublin. As such, it’s a bit of a litmus test in the same way that Romeo & Juliet and Night, Mother are – repeated viewing from a variety of outfits lends the viewer a certain distance from the text and allows us to see behind the words to the theatre company underneath.
Beating Heart Theatre Company are a bit of a motley crew, their experience ranging from seasoned professionals (Julian Jaensch is the Artistic Director of Company @ (possibly the world’s only autism spectrum theatre) to student and community theatre practitioners. There is some slight disparity in performance abilities, but there is passion and understanding underlining the performances of everyone involved driving through the performance, carrying us through potentially risky moments.
The play is ably directed by Simon Lancione, and stars Mark Drury in the title role as Old Nick. Perhaps the best performances belong to Drury himself, and to Tom Fitzsimmons, playing a number of supporting roles (court reporter Milo Milo, architect Nicholas Vidal, and Jesus, among others).
This isn’t a groundbreaking production of Barker’s work. It’s not terribly novel in execution, but it is a good, sturdy performance from a young group of enthusiastic players. Better than most student theatre and amdram society work, productions like this are how theatre gets started. If you’re looking for knock your socks off theatre, this isn’t your show, but if you want to catch a solid production of The History of the Devil, performed by (mostly) early career practitioners who are hungry and eager to do the work, come along and check it out.