Scene It: Cairns as Billy Markham is a devilish delight

July 13, 2018

In 1979 'goofy, gross and macabre yet always enchanting' children's author and famed adult cartoonist, Shel Silverstein, took another walk on the dark-comedy wild side by penning the hilariously profane poem (later turned one-man play) of The Devil and Billy Markham and publishing it in Playboy. With this poem, Silverstain showed that everyone, perhaps especially a humorous commentator, has a naughty and nice way of looking at life. This literary adult delight is currently on stage at Kalk Bay Theatre. So, 'come angels, come demons,' come all theatre-lovers of Cape Town, to see James Cairns impressively channel Billy (and a few deities) under the direction of Jenine Collocott.


Any poem or play in which a mere mortal takes on the Devil, gambling for his or her soul captures the imagination —can someone say Crowley as crossroads demon turned King of Hell in Supernatural?! So when high-stakes gambler Billy takes on the Devil in a dice game of craps, with the impossible odds of winning every earthly delight he desires if only he throws a 13, this poem-turned-play wittily presents itself as a captivating theatre experience. The wordy, rhyming script exudes the essence of the Faust-legend presented with a salacious country-twang twist. It sees aspirant country singer Billy relocate from Nashville to the Netherworld and is cleverly structured to balance the deific with the debaucherous.

Cairns’ delivery of this tongue twisting narrative is impressive. Cairns not only brings to life Billy Markham on a bare, elevated, strikingly lit stage, but also gives voice to the Devil, a few demons,a sleazy talent agent, and even God (when the creator makes a pool-playing cameo).


In fully embracing the swagger-infused haughtiness of Silverstein’s vision, this local staging of The Devil and Billy Markham turns what could so easily be kitsch —if the funny is overplayed at the cost of the follies the poem captures— into a theatrical rhyme with substance. Collocott's great direction paired with the talent of physical theatre marvel, Cairns, ensures that this creative team gets it spot on with an hour of pure hellish delight.


While you will leave the theatre in absolute amazement of the art you just witnessed on stage, the power of the play lies in the lingering ultimate question: Who enslaved whom? Is the Devil really in charge, or is it the devil in each one of us that truly calls the shots.

Well, whether it is your inner angel or devil that motivates you go see The Devil and Billy Markham at Kalk Bay Theatre by 21 July 2018, that little voice that says ‘go, book your tickets right now at for this guilty pleasure,' is definitely the voice you have to listen to. This play is everything great, stripped down to the wordsmith core, theatre should be.


Please note that this Contagious Theatre presented show has an age restriction of 16+ (ML). While booking for The Devil and Billy Markham you may also be interested to see the improvised show James Cairns Against Humanity on 15 and 18 July 2018 at Kalk Bay Theatre. Here you’ve got your James Cairns and you’ve got your Humanity and only one of them walks out alive...



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