Wealth and Hellbeing photo (c) The Bacchanals

wealth and hellbeing
by nicholas st john

The Bacchanals confirm the must-see status of all they do with Nicholas St John's darkly comic Wealth and Hellbeing, their first play by a writer still alive. Heavy metal bedevilled Eric (Carey Smith) gives birth to Mephistopheles (Rebecca Lawrence) and negotiates darkness and light with Gothic cohorts Damien & Trent, and innocent (or is she?) Natasha (Ah Satan backwards) while his ranting would-be Lodge Master Dad and tongue-cooking peace-maker Mum despair (all played by Tina Helm and James Stewart).
            David Lawrence directs dynamic performances (apart from one over-long strip/costume change) with simple staging and strong light and sound elements.
- John Smythe, National Business Review

The Bacchanals, having explored Greek and Shakespearian theatre, turn their theatrical attention to Devil Theatre. Eric, born with a sick head, summons Mephistopheles in a fit of pique with his parents. He finds having his wishes granted doesn't bring him the ecstasy he anticipated. Great performances - especially from Carey Smith (Eric), James Stewart and Tina Helm, shame about the script.
- Lynn Freeman, Capital Times

...Finally, a wrap-up of some Fringe plays. Wealth and Hellbeing by Nicholas St John was a surprise after his Glamour in the Sinning Room. Though it was also marked by the writer's interest in the arcana of demonism, it presented a much more interesting analysis of youthful alienation. This was set in a format recalling Marlowe's Dr Faustus and also thematically reminiscent of Sartre's Huis Clos.
            David Lawrence's production gave the play the best argument it could hope for, with strong performances and excellent, sparse production elements. While not a great work, the play did show that St John has a real gift for writing about people interacting. If he can be kept form the works of Huysmans and Aleister Crowley, that gift might flourish.
- Timothy O'Brien, The Dominion

It is difficult to know where to start with a review of Wealth and Hellbeing. Nicholas St John writes on what he calls 'Devil Theatre' in the programme: "Is it comedy? Is it tragedy? Who knows? Devil Theatre has always been a genre that provokes controversy". And then just to intimidate an unsuspecting reviewer he adds: "Here is what a non-initiated Dominion reviewer, himself an aspiring playwright, wrote about the original production of Glamour in the Sinning Room." [This is an earlier play by St John which was first performed in 1997 and is being repeated in this Fringe Festival] St John then gives us extracts form what must be one of the most uncomplimentary reviews I have ever read. Some of the more restrained bits were: "There was sloppy, puerile writing, non-existent direction, acting that made Shortland Street look like the Royal Shakespeare Company and a poorly conceptualised set design" and "The unkindest joke ... was letting this script see the light of day."
            Not wanting to appear uninitiated I rushed off to the reference books and phoned a few friends but was no wiser so decided Devil Theatre must either be a new genre that had escaped me or just something from the lineage of Medieval Morality plays and Faust. Wealth and Hellbeing certainly had links with Faust. A young boy, Eric (Carey Smith), who is a devil of a child, gives birth to the devil (or the devil within himself) and makes a pact with him to get all his wishes and desires fulfilled. The only problem is that when he thinks about it he does not really want any of them once they are within his grasp. Linking Eric's scenes with the devil are scenes with his parents trying to deal with their devil of a son, the counsellor who tries to analyse him and other incidents.
            The remarkable thing about this play is that the production bore no relationship to the one seen by the unfortunate Dominion reviewer and which St John wasted so much space on in the programme. It was well structured, well directed, well set and confidently and competently acted. The four letter words did not seem gratuitous and I neither wanted to rush out of the theatre before it was finished from boredom or shock nor did I sit riveted to my seat enrapt; but I am glad I have now had my introduction to Devil Theatre. I hope what I have written is little enough to protect me from St John's threat to reviewers - "Never mess with Devil Theatre" or there will be a dastardly outcome similar to the one that struck the Dominion reviewer (which is too dreadful for me to mention here).
- John Batstone, Theatre News

Hellishly funny but horror needs heating up

While I was waiting to enter Bats' auditorium to see a genre of drama I have not seen before - Devil Theatre - a tremendous gust of wind flung open the doors, causing papers to swirl about me and the floorboards to lift under my feet revealing a dark hole. It was like a brief scene from The Exorcist.
            Then I read a notice pinned to the door which stated ominously, "You will not enjoy this play", which seemed to fit with the brief description given in the Fringe programme: "Marlowe (Christopher) meets Manson (Charles or Marilyn, take your pick)."
            Despite the injunction on the door, I did enjoy the play. Well, the comic bits which succeeded in raising a laugh from the audience, such as when Eric, who is pregnant with the Devil, ends up with his face in a plate of mashed potato, when Trent, one of Eric's "toilet-block mates" is seriously bored, when Eric's suburban mum, dad and therapist all try to communicate with him and when the very conventional Devil turns Eric's girlfriend into a sex maniac.
            The problem with Faustus stories is that there's no suspense: the Devil always wins the soul and when the tempo of the play flagged, so did my enjoyment. The horror bits were like all horror bits on stage - pretty silly, really. The other problem with Faustus stories in this day and age is that we lack the language to express the horror. Constantly repeated swear words are quite simply inadequate. Give me Marlowe any day.
            The company - The Bacchanals - will have to improve on the blood and horror when they tackle Titus Andronicus later in the year, which they intend to rotate on weekdays with The Jew of Malta and Volpone, then run a nine-hour marathon on Saturdays with all three.
- Laurie Atkinson, The Evening Post

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