Review: The Devil’s Passion

Justin Butcher is both playwright and actor in this one-man show of biblical proportions in a remarkable venue. Having written an eloquent script, he slips into Satan’s shoes to justify acts of evil, and decry the good in his hunt for Jesus Christ.

The Devil’s Passion is a sort of sick circus mirror version of the Easter story. We see it all from Satan’s perspective. The lessons he doles out are not of forgiveness and redemption, a la Christ, but of domination, fear and the beauty inherent in destruction.

Seated on the pews of the St Peter’s Cathedral, this experience is a somewhat guilty pleasure, especially for those prone to bouts of Catholic guilt. Satan’s voice is booming through a hall of Anglican worship. The audacity of the artist and generosity of the church are well on show here.

For a minute or two the audience might even be a little seduced by the dark side, thanks to Butcher’s frequently compelling script and forcefully charismatic portrayal of the Devil. While Christ’s story remains embedded in history, Butcher has re-purposed and constructed contemporary analogies to help us see Satan’s side. Christ is a terrorist, a radical martyr intent on bringing down the world order, and Satan is working to stop him through the vast intelligence networks of the Roman Empire. They’ll catch the radical! It’s a sting operation!

Like Satan, Butcher metamorphoses into other characters throughout the show to strong effect. Be it an illness-stricken pauper, mother Mary or Christ himself, the transformations provide an enjoyable foil to the Devil’s machinations and commentary. Aided by Guy Masterson’s direction and production elements of light and sound, Butcher expertly paints vivid scenes of ancient conflict in the mind’s eye.

While it takes a short while for the audience to accustom themselves with the echo of the cathedral alongside the microphone and speaker setup, that grand yet piercing effect is wonderful by the end of the show. Occassionally too, the dense script proves too wordy for the audience, who fall behind as Butcher’s apocalyptic phrase rolls on.

In the end this show is more sympathy for the Devil than advocacy for evil, as Butcher gives Satan just enough rope with which to hang the hollowness of his rhetoric. The audience leaves asking some serious questions too, perhaps renewed in their desire to do good acts.

If you’re looking for a strong one-demon show this season, are partial to a thick word sandwich or you’re just curious to see someone shout about Satan’s greatness in a church, bear witness to The Devil’s Passion.

The Devil’s Passion was performed at St Peter’s Cathedral as part of the Adelaide Fringe on Wednesday, March 8 and continues there until Saturday, March 11.

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