THE last time Barbara Rafferty appeared in the Capital during the Christmas season, she was playing the deliciously evil Baroness Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, at The Playhouse.
That was in 2006. Eight years later it’s a very different role, and a very different piece of theatre, that brings the actress, best known to TV viewers as Ella Cotter in Rab C Nesbitt, back to the city.
From now until Christmas Eve, Rafferty can be found starring in the World Premiere of The Devil Masters, at the Traverse Theatre, alongside John Bett and Keith Fleming.
Written by the BAFTA Award-winning Iain Finlay Macleod, and directed by Orla O’Loughlin, the artistic director of the Traverse, The Devil Masters is a surrealist black comedy, which ‘twists the ordinary and teases us with the extraordinary’.
“I play Lara, she lives in the New Town and is terribly posh,” reveals Rafferty. “She’s an advocate who is married to an advocate, but things are not all that they seem, and when this chap comes to their house and steals her dog... well, all hell breaks loose. She is a force of nature.”
Posing the question, what do we become when we peel away the layers of class division and social decorum, The Devil Masters centres around Cameron Leishman and his wife Lara, two revered Edinburgh advocates, a husband-and-wife duo who know all about rules.
They know all about winning and they’ve been winning from day one. They have the Edinburgh New Town flat, the designer wardrobes and more fig compote than you can swing a gavel at.
Into their lives comes John, complete with a very different world view. Standing in their front room, he’s playing by his own rules, Caledonian rules.
With the Leishman family dog held for ransom, a tense battle of wills ensues as the lines between right and wrong are blurred and pack mentality sets in.
Explaining the origins of the piece, playwright Macleod says, “While living in Edinburgh last year, I discovered the hidden world of advocates, a somewhat mysterious, unknown side of the city.
“At its core, The Devil Masters taps into the unspoken rules of behaviour and etiquette in this world, with its ever-shifting sense of morality.
“With many twists and turns, I like to think the audience will be kept guessing right up until the last moment.”
“It’s a great piece, with a lot to say,” offers Rafferty, now known to a generation of children as Granma Mainland in CBeebies’ Katie Morag. “It’s quite mad as well, quite surreal.”
For O’Loughlin, it was “the counterpoint between the opulence of the legal world and the lot of the homeless” that attracted her to the play, that and “the scrutiny of who holds power and how power is employed.”
“Iain’s dialogue is always very funny, very absurd,” she says.
“This is a black, black comedy through and through, a contemporary, Edinburgh immorality tale.
“It’s perfect Traverse Christmas fayre.”
And Rafferty is delighting in originating the character of Lara.
“I’ve been quite lucky in the parts I played. I’m not just a woman, I’m older, so it’s fabulous to get the chance to play Lara.
“It is hard and challenging, which makes it great work because it is fresh. You can put your slant on the character while collaborating to make it the best you can.”
There’s nowhere Rafferty would rather do that, than the iconic Cambridge Street theatre.
“I love the Traverse, it’s been part of my psyche for many, many years,” she says.
“I worked at the old Traverse as well and it has always produced new writing, which is so important, and Iain has done a great job with this. It is a fantastic piece of writing.”
The Devil Masters, Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, until 24 December, various times, £16, 0131-228 1404