Interview: New South African satirical cabaret, Devil Song, set in a South African-inspired netherspace- riffing off “a world that can only exist inside someone’s head”

Devil Song- South African cabaret

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  

What turns people into villains, ghouls and baddies? Perhaps our perceptions are very different of what that may or may not signify. The journey from the good guy to the bad guy is often a short one…I think that is why we are so fascinated by villains”, muses David Fick about his new cabaret, Devil Song, “a series of songs, sketches, situations and scenes that create a montage feel”. The solo cabaret is performed by Schoeman Smit. For Devil Song, Fick has curated vignettes, which include his own writing and contributions by Pieter Jacobs, Joanna Weinberg (the veteran cabaret artist lives in Australia). The satirical cabaret is set in “a South African-inspired netherspace” and 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. It is a big production – sets and costumes (Widaad Albertus), on-stage musical accompaniment with Ian Bothma (piano) and he is the musical director’s seat. David Fick and Schoeman Smit, provide insights into what to expect from the cabaret, which was conceived over five years ago. Tremendous work has gone in taking this cabaret – a luscious song cycle with vivid characters and situations–from page to stage. The premiere season is at the Avalon in Cape Town, from March 27 to  April 5, 2023:

The journey of Devil Song

This is the premiere of Devil Song. Was it written by David (and the other contributors), with you in mind?

Schoeman Smit: Yes, I was involved right from the start. Devil Song has been a long journey for the two of us. David played me the original music about five or six years back and I fell in love with the music. The cycle itself is only about 30 minutes long so we had to carefully pair it with material that would complement the music and would also flesh out the running time. No easy task for such sophisticated writing. Almost everything David and I collaborate on is chosen with me as actor and him as director. That is why there are often large gaps between projects. We both have to feel very strongly about the piece. It has to be the right fit.

Seven deadly sins and human nature itself

Devil Song was inspired by the song cycle The Seven Deadly Sins (2004) by American, Audra McDonald- a cycle hinged around the so-called seven deadly sins. Does Devil Song consist of sketches, with characters and situations, songs and stories; conjuring up each sin?

Schoeman Smit: I think the best way to describe the cabaret is that it is a series of songs, sketches, situations and scenes that create a montage feel. The transition from one piece to the next is quite fluid and fast. Some of the characters are well-known villains from literature but some of the material acts as a commentary on the seven deadly sins and human nature itself. The cabaret also affords me the opportunity as an actor to tackle material that I would not normally get the chance to perform. Daunting and exhilarating at the same time.

David Fick: Schoeman and I have loved Audra McDonalds The Seven Deadly Sins, for ages. It’s a set of songs by different songwriters, focusing on lust, greed and so on. What appealed to us was how they make age-old themes feel contemporary – and human in the hands of an actor like Audra McDonald. I’ve toyed with an idea for a “villains” show for even longer, so the song cycle was the match that lit the fire. The pieces we’ve collected for Devil Song are so diverse. There’s plenty of comedy, but serious dramatic fare too. It all comes down to the nature of the multiple characters that live in the show.

South African netherspace- a world that can only exist inside someone’s head

Context, pace, space – insights into the design – is it a South African space?

David Fick: Devil Song is set in a South African-inspired netherspace. It’s a world that can only exist inside someone’s head, a mind that remembers all kinds of things from the limitless plains of the Karoo to the drought of the 1930s as well as echoes of the world literature we’ve studied in school. Schoeman is Afrikaans, so we’ve also tapped into aspects of his language and heritage to keep Devil Song at home. We’re so lucky to have Ian Bothma accompanying Schoeman on piano. Ian is also the musical director for the show. His work on the music is so sensitive and atmospheric. Together, they’re going to sound gorgeous.

More dark chocolate than popcorn.

At the moment, we are living in a landscape of anxiety – with people having existential moments and laughing and singing can work wonders for release and relief. Is this what one can expect from this cabaret? To let it all out, through sheer immersion in a cabaret?

Schoeman Smit: Yes absolutely. It is a vital part of what we do, to provide an outlet for anyone to feel anything. Whether we know it or not, we have two major responsibilities to the audience:

1. To tell the story.

2. To create a space where they can feel and or experience whatever they need to.

A colleague of mine who sadly passed away during Covid, I think put it best. “When theatre is done right, it heals the sick and hurts the mean” I also hope that people will walk away from Devil Song feeling a little challenged by what they have seen on stage. You will laugh and cry for sure but it is more dark chocolate than popcorn.

Sinful montage – cast of ghouls

You are bringing to life – “a deliciously sinful montage of crooks, murderers, seducers, con men, traitors, tyrants, vagabonds and thieves.” Are these South African dudes – fictional and non-fictional?

Schoeman Smit: Yes, we have both local and international bad guys and even some more well-known villains are portrayed from a South African point of view. And not only men there are also women and gender-neutral villains. We all have heard so many people say things like, “oh, I could never do that” or “how does that person get themselves into that situation.”  The baddies in the show challenge that idea a little. The journey from the good guy to the bad guy is often a short one. I think that is why we are so fascinated by villains. I don’t want to tell you who they are. It’s best to come to the show and meet the cast of ghouls.

Writing Devil Song- a curatorship fluid montage

In compiling the vignettes, David, you have collaborated on the writing with Pieter Jacobs and with Joanna Weinberg?

David Fick: Working on Devil Song is more a curatorship than a collaboration. We’re creating a fluid montage, and being given permission to use work by people like Pieter Jacobs and Joanna Weinberg has been thrilling. Pieter’s monologue, from his play F.A.T., is about body image, and Joanna’s song “Doctor D,” is about what it takes to be sexually attractive. What we’re enjoying about these pieces is that they all have an edge that will make people respond in different ways, which is rather the point of it all. One person’s hero is another person’s villain

The devil has many faces: Schoeman Smit, performing in Devil Song, the new South African cabaret, by David Fick which is premiering in Cape Town, March 2023 at The Avalon in District Six. Pic supplied.
Cast of ghouls: David Fick has conceived the cabaret, Devil Song and has curated vignettes by various writers into a satirical cabaret, set in “a South African-inspired netherspace”. Pic supplied.

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      

✳ Images supplied. This conversation has been marginally edited for length and clarity.Related coverage on TheCapeRobyn: