Tag Archives: Ioanna Kimbook

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


Click here to read all our latest reviews


Bitter Wheat

Garrick Theatre

Bitter Wheat

Bitter Wheat

Garrick Theatre

Reviewed – 19th June 2019



“a richly entertaining piece of theatre driven by starry performances”


“Nobody minded bad behaviour as long as the public didn’t get to hear about it” Louis B. Mayer once told his young star, Mickey Rooney. Since the birth of Hollywood this has been a truism, sustaining the myth of the movie mogul as profane, vulgar, cruel, rapacious and philandering. The only real change these days is that the public does get to hear about it more and more. There is currently one name that everybody will no doubt associate with Barney Fein, the sleaze-ball producer masterfully played by John Malkovitch in David Mamet’s “Bitter Wheat”. But Mamet’s writing points the finger at a longer line of tycoons to produce an amalgam which adds more dimensions to the character. Malkovitch seizes this opportunity to add humour and human traces. But never sympathy.

Nobody escapes the machine-gun fire of Fein’s vitriol that turns to lasciviousness when he meets young actress, Yung Kim Li, to discuss her new film. He promises stardom, and we all know in return for what, especially as he has just had a high dose of a libido-enhancing drug that is just kicking in. Ioanna Kimbook catches on just as quickly with an impressive portrayal of the ingénue’s growing discomfort. It’s in this scene that Mamet’s wit really shines through, with faux-pas in abundance that soon take a darker turn when the inevitable career defining threat arrives.

Sadly, neither character comes out of this well. Nor does the second act which seems to be racing towards its rather farcical conclusion. Naturally, when the police are brought in Fein’s life falls apart. But the actress’ career is destroyed too, before it has started. Fein’s long-suffering secretary is also out of a job. Doon Mackichan downplays the contempt she feels for Fein perfectly – pitching it just right: high enough to be recognised but low enough to avoid the counterattack.

The subplots and sub characters that are tagged onto this central story seem unnecessary. An illegal immigrant who assassinates Fein’s terminally ill mother serves little purpose. The opening scene of the play, on the other hand, in which Fein refuses to pay a screenwriter his due fee is underexplored and unceremoniously discarded. It is in these moments that we are given a stronger insight into the psyche of the extraordinary character that is Barney Fein; and into the machinations of Hollywood. There is a quirkiness to the dialogue that is unmatched by the predictability of the sexual assault headlines.

Overall though, this is a richly entertaining piece of theatre driven by starry performances. Mamet manages to display his usual, exhilarating and unique flair with words, tackling an uncomfortable subject. If anything, however, the humour makes it all a bit too comfortable and doesn’t necessarily advance the issues it is addressing. In this case truth is stranger than fiction.

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Manuel Harlan


Bitter Wheat

Garrick Theatre until 21st September


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Rip It Up – The 60s | ★★★ | February 2019


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com