Tag Archives: Lulu Raczka

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





New Diorama Theatre



New Diorama Theatre

Reviewed – 9th January 2020



“Holy What’s excruciatingly incisive and nuanced production wrenches this classical play from its historical resting place and plants it firmly in the modern canon”


Honestly, Greek plays make me think of my GCSE drama theory, and just the idea of actually sitting through one makes me want to take a nap. Fortunately, Holy What’s production is having none of that.

Antigone (Annabel Baldwin) and Ismene (Rachel Hosker), two teenage sisters, are holding up the home front whilst their brothers fight against one another in a war for leadership of the city. The sisters spend their time playing games, talking about boys and sex, and venturing in to city’s nightlife.

When the soldiers finally return, both brothers are dead. Creon, their uncle and the newly appointed leader of the city, proclaims that one brother will be honourably buried and the other will be left unburied on the battlefield. Antigone insists that no-one should be punished this way, no matter their crime. Despite Creon’s decree of death for anyone who tries to bury her brother’s body, Antigone is insistent.

And that is the shortest possible synopsis for the ultimate Greek tragedy. On top of that, we’ve got incest, lots of tragic death, heroic acts, love, and let’s not forget the thing that brings it all together, the lashings and lashings of family drama. All this, undertaken by a two-hander in one act.

Under Ali Pidsley’s direction, Antigone focuses solely on the intense relationship between the sisters. Clearly far less interested in the particular twists and turns of the original character-packed plot, Lulu Raczka’s script is an immensely intimate portrayal of sisterly love. Whilst the generalities of Sophocles’ plot remains, the dialect is hyper modern. But somehow, despite plenty of talk of battlefields and death by starvation in a cave, it doesn’t feel uncomfortably anachronistic. Instead, we’re thoroughly drawn in to crushing moral dilemmas, and the impossible choices between doing the right thing and doing what’s necessary to survive.

The performances of both Baldwin and Hosker are heartbreakingly honest. Their delivery so closely mirrors the intimate nuances of sisterly love that if it weren’t for the fact that this is a rewrite of a Greek drama, I’d assume a lot of the script was verbatim.

The setting (Lizzy Leech), a small tiered platform filled with soil, evades complete understanding but is effective nonetheless. The dirt provides a play pit for the sisters in their jollier moments, and evidence of Antigone’s actions later in the plot. And all that aside, it provides a pleasing texture to a story that otherwise requires few props.

Lighting (Tim Kelly) and sound (Kieran Lucas), both deceptively simple, play almost as much of a role in this production as the script. Lucas’ score artfully navigates between low ominous rumbles, thumping soundscapes and noughties R&B. Kelly’s lighting is similarly emotionally calculating and playful, amping up the drama when a two-person cast can’t quite cut it.

My only real criticism for this production is that the soundtrack was a little too loud at various points – I had to plug my ears for a good couple of minutes in the middle, and I was still capable of hearing everything. And my other criticism would be that I’d appreciate if the lights stayed down for a minute or two at the end so that no-one could see my runny nose and blood-shot eyes. That’s right, I was completely crushed by a Greek tragedy.

Holy What’s excruciatingly incisive and nuanced production wrenches this classical play from its historical resting place and plants it firmly in the modern canon. What a way to start the new year.


Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Ali Wright



New Diorama Theatre until 1st February


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Trap Street | ★★★★ | March 2018
Left my Desk | ★★★★ | May 2018
Bitter | ★★★ | June 2018
Taking Flight | ★★★ | June 2018
4.48 Psychosis | ★★★★ | September 2018
Boys | ★★★★★ | November 2018
The War Of The Worlds | ★★★½ | January 2019
Operation Mincemeat | ★★★★★ | May 2019
Art Heist | ★★★½ | October 2019
Joan Of Leeds | ★★★★ | December 2019


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