By Peter Tromp
Graham Clarke is currently showcasing his award-winning performance of the late American author Shel Silverstein’s epic one-man comedy poem ‘The Devil and Billy Markham’ at The Alexander Bar in Strand Street. The piece is renowned for its mixture of profanity and profound wisdom.
Billy Markham is an out of work blues singer. A boozer and loser, Billy is in a bar one evening where he is challenged to a game of dice by the Devil; the stakes are his soul. It kicks off an escalating game, taking the characters between Hell, Heaven and Nashville, and moving from hilarity to poignant drama.
Clarke won the FNB Vita award for best comedy performance in a one man show for the production in 1998, and has performed the piece twice before in Cape Town in 2006 and 2008 at the Kalk Bay Theatre.
Clarke discovered ‘The Devil And Billy Markham’ at a performed reading in the late 1980s at a Johannesburg jazz club. The work contains over 10000 words and initially took the actor three months to properly memorise.
Based on this current performance at the Alexander Bar, ‘The Devil and Billy Markham’ appears to be suffused with Clarke’s soul at this point. The actor, who must be pushing 70, but is still in immaculate shape, does not miss a beat throughout. So in sync with the material is Clarke that it is difficult to imagine anyone else even giving the material a spin.
There are so many nuances to his performance, and Clarke manages to give each of the various characters shape and dimension. It is all delivered with such consummate confidence and charm that you really owe it to yourself to be seduced by this singular actor. Rarely do we get to see a performance this lived in on the local stage.
* ‘The Devil and Billy Markham’ is showing until April 19.
To book, visit alexanderbar.co.za.