Tag Archives: Imogen Knight

Women Beware The Devil

Women, Beware The Devil


Almeida Theatre

WOMEN, BEWARE THE DEVIL at the Almeida Theatre


Women Beware The Devil

“full of artful tricks that allow the action to switch between vast portrait galleries designed to impress, to intimate bedroom spaces”


Women, Beware the Devil, Lulu Raczka’s new play at the Almeida Theatre, directed by Rupert Goold, is an intriguing mix of social history and political commentary, set in the 1640s. It’s a commentary etched upon the domestic lives of women caught up in the beginnings of a civil war that will change their lives forever. What has the devil to do with all this? His power is not what it was, as he engagingly confides in the opening scene. But for all this gutsy introduction to the Prince of Darkness, Raczka’s play is less about devilish magic, and more about hanging onto an ancient house by any means, fair or foul. And if you consider the current preoccupations with the housing crisis in Britain, then Women, Beware the Devil doesn’t seem so much a lesson in history, as a very contemporary play indeed.

Make no mistake, Women, Beware the Devil is a play about a property. It’s also about primogeniture and the powerlessness of women to decide their own fates. Everything revolves around the stately home and the lives of the women bound to it by blood or by service. Lady Elizabeth, unmarried sister of the dimwitted Edward, takes her duties towards the house seriously, as well she might. For if her brother fails to produce a male heir, then she loses her power, but more importantly, loses her home as well. The female servants that surround her are equally vulnerable. Their livelihoods depend on the owners of the house and their goodwill. When Edward refuses to consummate his marriage with a wealthy woman he considers socially beneath him, Elizabeth puts her soul on the line to ensure that the house remains in her family. She hires Agnes, a woman suspected of being a witch by her gossiping neighbours, and instructs her to bewitch her brother into doing his duty by his wife. Agnes initially refuses, but the ways in which Elizabeth and her sister in law Catherine work upon Agnes precipitate a diabolical revenge. Agnes really is a witch, it seems. If the devil does win in this grim story, it is presumably because he set up the property system around the time of William the Conqueror, and then sat back to watch it all play out.

Women, Beware the Devil plays out on a magnificent set designed by Miriam Buether. It is full of artful tricks that allow the action to switch between vast portrait galleries designed to impress, to intimate bedroom spaces. Buether’s set echoes the distances between the characters, with tall windows and a receding perspective that heighten this chilly tale. Goold’s directing is a beautifully crafted choreography designed to emphasize the power relationships between the women, and show how these shift dramatically during the course of the play. The costumes, designed by Evie Gurney, are a lovely mix of Puritan drab and Cavalier excess, with sparkling jewelry for added bling. It’s all spell binding to look at, presided over by a fetching Satan with cute little horns. Nathan Armarkwei-Laryea plays him to perfection, and manages a host of other roles as well. Some devilish, and some all too human. But the lion’s share of the action goes to the actresses in Women, Beware the Devil, as it should. Lydia Leonard as Elizabeth and Alison Oliver as Agnes face off for an epic struggle of good versus evil, and the fact that it’s difficult to tell exactly who is on Team Evil simply enhances our enjoyment of their work. Lola Shalam, Aurora Dawson-Hunte and Carly-Sophia Davies are a convincing trio of gossiping maids with agendas of their own. Leo Bill as Edward, and Ioanna Kimbook as the browbeaten Catherine, have the least sympathetic roles, but they still claim the space convincingly as their own whenever they are on stage.

For all its bravado in theme and presentation, however, Women, Beware the Devil undercuts its own power by being more about domestic politics than witchcraft. Not surprisingly, we are are unconvinced by threats of witchfinders, especially when they are unmasked as one more kind of puritan revolutionary. Yes, they can still do harm. But the age of the witchfinder ended, pretty much, a generation earlier, and the world of the play is now trembling on the edge of a philosophical revolution which will banish superstition (and witches) for good. So maybe the devil is just having one last party with the unfortunate women. Raczka hints that he’s still around, in different disguises, even in our modern world. But that’s a claim that rings hollow in our sceptical age. And it’s an unconvincing ending for a drama that suggests a reckoning with big subjects.


Reviewed on 23rd February 2023

by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Marc Brenner



More shows recently reviewed by Dominica:


Tanz | ★★★★ | Battersea Arts Centre | November 2022
The Return | ★★★ | Cockpit Theatre | November 2022
Little Red Riding Hood | ★★½ | Battersea Arts Centre | December 2022
Orlando | ★★★★ | Garrick Theatre | December 2022
The Art of Illusion | ★★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | January 2023
The Ocean At The End Of The Lane | ★★★★ | New Victoria Theatre | January 2023
Intruder | ★★★★ | VAULT Festival 2023 | January 2023
666 Hell Lane | ★★★★★ | The Vaults | February 2023
Dance Me | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | February 2023
Police Cops: Badass Be Thy Name | ★★★★★ | The Vaults | February 2023


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The Half God of Rainfall

Kiln Theatre

The Half-God of Rainfall

The Half God of Rainfall

Kiln Theatre

Reviewed – 30th April 2019



“a captivating and unique blend of combined storylines and lineages that seamlessly interact and complement one another”


The Half God of Rainfall is the latest instalment from writer and poet Inua Ellams, performed at the recently revamped Kiln Theatre (formerly the Tricycle Theatre). It tells the mystical story of a half Nigerian mortal – half Olympian god, and his mortal mother.

Combining ancient Yoruba and Greek mythology, Ellams creates a sort of multiverse, with the Orishas and Olympian Gods standing side by side. This results in a captivating and unique blend of combined storylines and lineages that seamlessly interact and complement one another.

There is a strong sense of cohesive collaboration in this production. All the elements: design (Max Johns), sound (Tanuja Amarasuriya), lighting (Jackie Shemesh), movement  (Imogen Knight) and direction (Nancy Medina) had purpose and neither obstructed nor overshadowed each other. The aesthetic of the production, down to the costume design was simplistic yet precise; permitting the audience to fill in the gaps with our imagination. It was impressive and rewarding to see the intelligence and effort behind every artistic choice. The sense of play and the world of mythology was all the more enhanced for the audience, as a result.

The play is a two hander and reads like an epic poem, reminiscent of writers such as Debbie Tucker Green and Homer. Though wordy in parts (and the accents being a little off at times) the language and stylish flow of Ellams’ writing had the dexterity to always engage one back to the story.

The actors, Rakie Ayola and Kwami Odoom traversed effortlessly between multiple characters with a fluidity that reinforced the continuous flowing rhythm of the story. Their dramatic choices were bold and distinct. Most of all, Ayola and Odoom were wonderful to watch; arresting, dynamic and exciting.

This play is a multi-layered, complex and highly intelligent piece of writing. Ellams addresses racial politics, legacy, culture, human spirit, self-destruction and the narrative of abused women and lost men all under one mythological roof. The audience is sent on a journey to Olympus and the galaxies beyond as though turning the pages of the story ourselves. The fine line between legend and reality was masterfully detailed reflecting our own need and desire to create demigods out of celebrities and sporting heroes.

Unpredictably clever throughout, poignant and fun, we were also brought, purposefully, back to Earth as Ellams reflected the brutality of life, at us. How those in power, who can seem untouchable like deities, so oft abuse their privileged and inflict violations beyond comprehension. And yet, even in the depths of pain and violation, the human spirit can be an indomitable and mighty force.

Ellams intertwines message and poetry with great balance. We do not leave the theatre with the thought that this is simply a play to be left in the clouds of fantasy. We’re reminded to take home the sobering and yet uplifting thought that a magnitude of strength resides in all of us and that the choice as how we wield it is, indeed, a great one.

A skilfully crafted, magical folktale; one that will certainly stand the test of time.


Reviewed by Pippin

Photography by Dan Tsantilis


The Half God of Rainfall

Kiln Theatre until 17th May




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