A period drama with a modern twist, Women, Beware the Devil is darkly entertaining.

Credit: Marc Brenner

Women, Beware the Devil feels familiar (think The Crucible, Women Beware Women, even Bridgerton) yet has a refreshing take on the eighteenth century witchcraft hysteria era of England. Lulu Raczka (writer) tells the story of Agnes’ (Alison Oliver) climb up the social ranks of Lady Elizabeth’s (Lydia Leonard) estate and her succumbence to evil, resulting in eventual damnation. Brilliantly directed by Rupert Goold, decisions were made to modernize it, including breaking the fourth wall (which takes it the extra step to make it truly chilling at times) and making some witty modern references.

Miriam Buether’s stage design is remarkable and impressively has optical illusion – the dark wooden walls are slanted and the stage is raked to make it look bigger than it is. I loved the addition of opening and closing windows for a ‘natural’ light. The squared lit ceiling adds to the modernity of the play.

There are so many compelling elements and themes to this show – ambition, morality, politics, duty – that contributes to its brilliance yet also its downfall. There is so much happening that it’s hard to focus on one issue. It could almost be a series instead of a play. The first half felt long, though I was never bored; it was the second half that dragged a bit for me. This is an outstanding piece of new work, and as time goes and more productions are put on, I’m sure it will hold its own to be a much-remembered play.

Credit: Marc Brenner

By far the best part of the show is its actors. Nathan Armarkwei-Laryea played the deliciously camp Devil, with long, black, pointed nails, an exquisite sense of style, and who relishes on every word he says. Leo Bill (Edward) may have played his part a little too well, because I was disgusted by him. He provides most of the humor in the play, but he is a truly despicable character to laugh at and not with. Lydia Leonard was born to wear Evie Gurney’s stunning period dresses. She is exquisite as Elizabeth, never wavering. I give a big congratulations and shout out to Lola Shalam on her stage debut as Mary. She is brilliant, and I’m sure she will go on to do great things.

Alison Oliver as Agnes completely blew me away. Agnes’ transformation from a stable girl to a lady of the house is perfectly gradual and incredibly powerful. Her posture straightens and even her gait lengthens as she climbs the social ranks, signifying her rising confidence. She is by far the most riveting character I have seen in a long time. She is the only person in the play who was ever concerned with being good, even willing to die for it at one point. Even while other actors were speaking, I could not take my eyes off Oliver when she was on stage.

My English literature brain has come up with a ton of topics for essays I could write on this. If you want to have a good think on morality, see some stunning costume and stage design, or get wrapped up in the drama of an eighteenth-century household, this show is for you! It is on until the 25th of March.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Read all of Jill’s reviews here

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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