Insight: Devil Song- new South African cabaret, curated by David Fick, starring Schoeman Smit poignant, sad clown-devil- sparking mirth but within the cabaret of devils – it signifies – a lot for us to ponder

When: March 27 to  April 5, 2023 at 7.30pm
Where: Avalon Auditorium, Homecoming Centre, Buitenkant Street, District Six, Cape Town (formerly The Fugard)
Compiled and directed by: David Fick
Performer: Schoeman Smit
Musical accompaniment: Ian Bothma (piano)
Tickets: R120
Bookings: Webtickets  

Scroll down for creative credits    

Devil Song is a new satirical theatrical cabaret, with vignettes which have been curated by David Fick and he is also directing. The premiere season is on in the Avalon Auditorium, Homecoming Centre (formerly The Fugard) until April 5, so it is a very short season. The cabaret is performed by Schoeman Smit, who is accompanied by Ian Bothma at the piano. Devil Song was inspired by the 2004 song cycle, The Seven Deadly Sins by American, Audra McDonald. This cycle pivoted around the so-called seven deadly sinspride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth. Fick has used the jump-off point of McDonald’s cycle and conjured up portraits of so-called—called villains, devils and individuals who have succumbed to the ‘sins’- or have they? Was the iconic ‘first sin’ with Adam and Eve, aberration or were they just having fun and pleasuring themselves in the Garden of Eden? In a recent interview, Fick said that he has set Devil Song in “a South African-inspired netherspace” and that it is “a commentary on the seven deadly sins and human nature itself” and riffs off “a world that can only exist inside someone’s head”.].

When I saw the show, on Tuesday (March 28), we sat towards the back and my plus-one and I battled to hear. We spoke to others, in the first few rows and they said that they had no issues at all and that the sound was good. It can take time for a show to calibrate sound throughout an auditorium. Unfortunately, I was unable to get back to watch again. It is a pity and it means that I cannot write a review of the songs and dialogue as I could not hear the words for most of the numbers. I heard snippets and I could hear Te wees, of nie te wees William Shakespeare, (translated by Eitemal), which I enjoyed immensely. It is an elegiac, poignant rendition of the Bard’s famous scene from Hamlet Act III, Scene 1.

This is a shout-out to David Fick and his vision for creating a new cabaret and to the talented Schoeman Smit (terrific layering of gesture and voice), pianist Ian Bothma (also the musical director) and the creative team. I hope to see it again and write a review of the songs and dialogue. I can say that visually, Devil Song has been beautifully and creatively staged. The stage of the Avalon has been stripped back to the walls, layered with palimpsests.  Frames have been placed to indicate exits, entrances, escapes, spaces in the netherspace of the devil and his peregrination in a South African landscape.

I loved the lighting (Tara Notcutt), playing with light and shadow; concealing and revealing the devilish dudes transfiguring in front of us. Schoeman is garbed in a fabulous costume of freaky eccentricity. It looks like lederhosen meets a safari suit or uniform from a choir for boys. I googled the uniforms for the Drakensberg Boys Choir and they don’t sport this get-up, so I am not referring to that choir. The Devil Song costume pings for me in reaction to Weimar Germany. I am thinking of the Joel Grey Emcee in Bob Fosse’s Cabaret (1972) and the Faustian makeup. The Weimar milieu – the interregnum between the world wars – a time with the impending rise of the Nazis and yet within the uncertainty and madness- there was tremendous creativity and expression of sexuality and many people went out and enjoyed themselves, often in clubs and darkly lit spaces in the cabaret world. I guess that in South Africa and worldwide, there is a sense of the un-reality of this strange world and within that, we do our best to express ourselves and live out versions of our selves. Although, I could not grasp a lot of the dialogue (spoken and sung), I think that this comes across profoundly in Devil Song. Who is to say who is the devil in a landscape with many posturing as ‘good’, concealing their evil intentions? Schoeman conjures up a poignant, sad clown-devil- sparking mirth but within the cabaret of devils – it signifies – a lot for us to ponder.

Poignant, sad clown-devil: Schoeman Smit in Devil Song. Photo: Canned Rice Photography.
Devil Song- South African cabaret- creative credits

Vignettes written by: David Fick, Pieter Jacobs, Joanna Weinberg

Lighting design: Tara Notcutt
Set and costume design: Widaad Albertus
Musical direction and accompaniment on piano: Ian Bothma
Sound design: Melissa George       

✳ Featured image: Schoeman Smit in Devil Song. Photo: Canned Rice Photography.

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