Women, Beware the Devil ★★★★ Almeida Theatre | Feb 11 - Mar 25, 2023

With lots of references to Jacobean revenge plays and a large dash of 19th century Gothic, Lulu Raczka has created a work that is gory, gruesome and a lot of fun. In order to save her house, noblewoman Elizabeth de Clare (Lydia Leonard) makes a pact with a peasant girl who is a witch. Agnes, artfully played by Alison Oliver, agrees to facilitate the marriage of Elizabeth's brother, Edward (Leo Bill) to the bourgeois Katherine (Ioanna Kimbook) whose money will be used to prop up the family estate. However, Elizabeth's stratagem proves to be a pact with the devil for once the forces of the lower classes are unleashed they threaten to sweep away that unworkable covenant between the bourgeoisie and the nobility. In Agnes, the demonic reality of the proletariat is released to join forces with the Puritans who are fighting the king in the Civil War. It remains unclear, however, whether Raczka's play endorses or is being ironic about these disruptive and demonic forces that threaten the established order. In general, the cast does an excellent job of capturing the tone of this over-the-top piece, and we particularly liked Leo Bill's foppish Edward and Lydia Leonard's steely Elizabeth. Evie Gurney's costumes are simply splendid, and Agnes' introduction of colour into the de Clares' black and white world subtly prefigures her breaking down of the old order. We found Miriam Buether's set to be a clever and enjoyed playful nod to various 17th century paintings. This is not a work that will be to everyone's taste. Like its historical antecedents, Women, Beware the Devil is excessive, grotesque and sometimes borders on silly, but it also has the allure of exploring dark forces that are still afoot in the contemporary world.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Marc Brenner.

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