Tag Archives: Tim Lutkin

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



Life of Pi


Wyndham’s Theatre

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Wyndham’s Theatre

Reviewed – 29th November 2021



“This is theatre at its most hallucinatory and wonderful, yet fundamentally simplistic; created by a collective vision that you forget is there.”


“Which story do you prefer?” asks Piscine “Pi” Patel of the two Japanese officials investigating the shipwreck from which he is the only survivor. We are approaching the end of this fantastical tale and it is a beautifully pertinent and intentional moment. It is a much more satisfying question rather than “which story they think is the true one”. ‘Life is a story’ and ‘You can choose your story’ are just two of the themes that wash up from the cruel sea of allegories that “Life of Pi” presents. Choosing what you believe and, in turn, controlling those beliefs is as treacherous as taming a Bengal tiger.

Transferring from Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre (delayed by the pandemic), Max Webster’s production, adapted by Lolita Chakrabarti from Yann Martel’s novel, has predictably been hailed the new “War Horse”. Yet it is a different beast entirely. As intricate and astonishing as the puppetry is, the magic is also created from the enthralling central performances and the jaw-dropping stage craft. Under Webster’s sabre-sharp direction, the entire team of designers and cast capture the imagination, not just of the author, but of the audience too. It melds them into one of the same, both feeding off each other. It is an almost miraculous feat that is achieved, not from high tech wizardry, but from sheer inventiveness and trust in the human mind.

While Finn Caldwell’s and Nick Barnes’ puppetry breathe life into the wild creatures that pace the stage, Hiran Abeysekera’s central performance as ‘Pi’ is the life-force that pulses through the piece. Abeysekera pulls us into his worlds; his childhood at his father’s zoo, the hospital recovery ward, and onto his lifeboat. We willingly share his perils as he survives over seven months adrift on the Pacific Ocean. Originally accompanied by a hyena, zebra, orangutan and Bengal tiger, he is eventually alone with just the tiger. ‘Pi’ survives in part by acting upon profound philosophical questions that come to him like ghosts; and by pulling shreds of advice from his memory. “Use everything you have and defy the odds”. This latter truism can definitely be applied to the design of the piece in which the minds of Tim Hatley (set), Tim Lutkin (lighting) and Andrzej Goulding (video) have merged to conjure a breath-taking backdrop to the tale. There is a spell-binding moment when ‘Pi’ leaps off his boat into the ocean, vanishing in front of our eyes only to reappear elsewhere from the waves. No high-tech wizardry. Just inventive trickery.

This is theatre at its most hallucinatory and wonderful, yet fundamentally simplistic; created by a collective vision that you forget is there. In the same way, we are aware that the puppets – most noticeably the tiger – are being controlled by four different puppeteers, yet we don’t see them in our minds. What we see is the personality of a sentient creature vividly conjured by the language of its movement. The beast becomes human.

‘Pi’ tells us more than one story. We have his story with animals – fantastical, spiritual and dreamlike. And we have the harsh, scientific realism. “Which story do you prefer?” Pi asks, while provoking our silent answer with “You want a story to confirm what you already know”. This production challenges what we might already know about theatre but also, without a shadow of a doubt, reinforces our belief in the power of theatre. Long after you leave the auditorium, you will be bound by its spell. Abeysekera’s witty, compelling, and poised performance depicts a solo voyage. Surrounded by an incredible, indispensable company of actors it manages to transcend a single life. This is life itself. A fantastic voyage. This is Theatre.



Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Johan Persson


Life of Pi

Wyndham’s Theatre until 27th February


More shows reviewed by Jonathan this year:
Abba Mania | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | May 2021
Abigail’s Party | ★★★★ | Park Theatre | November 2021
Amélie The Musical | ★★★★ | Criterion Theatre | June 2021
Back To The Future | ★★★★ | Adelphi Theatre | October 2021
Bad Days And Odd Nights | ★★★★★ | Greenwich Theatre | June 2021
Be More Chill | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | July 2021
Big Big Sky | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | August 2021
Bklyn The Musical | ★★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Brian and Roger | ★★★★★ | Menier Chocolate Factory | November 2021
Brief Encounter | ★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | October 2021
Cinderella | ★★★★★ | Gillian Lynne Theatre | August 2021
Constellations | ★★★★ | Vaudeville Theatre | August 2021
Cruise | ★★★★★ | Duchess Theatre | May 2021
Disenchanted | ★★★ | Online | April 2021
Express G&S | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | June 2021
Fever Pitch | ★★★★ | Hope Theatre | September 2021
Forever Plaid | ★★★★ | Upstairs at the Gatehouse | June 2021
Forgetful Heart | ★★★★ | Online | June 2021
Heathers | ★★★ | Theatre Royal Haymarket | July 2021
Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act | ★★ | Playground Theatre | September 2021
Indecent Proposal | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | November 2021
Le Petit Chaperon Rouge | ★★★★ | The Coronet Theatre | November 2021
Little Women | ★★★★ | Park Theatre | November 2021
My Night With Reg | ★★★★ | The Turbine Theatre | July 2021
Night Mother | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | October 2021
Operation Mincemeat | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | August 2021
Preludes in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | May 2021
Rainer | ★★★★★ | Arcola Theatre | October 2021
Remembering the Oscars | ★★★ | Online | March 2021
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament | ★★★★ | Online | February 2021
Staircase | ★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | June 2021
The Cherry Orchard | ★★★★ | Theatre Royal Windsor | October 2021
The Hooley | ★★★★★ | Chiswick House & Gardens | June 2021
The Picture of Dorian Gray | ★★★★ | Online | March 2021
The Rice Krispie Killer | ★★★★ | Lion and Unicorn Theatre | August 2021
The Two Character Play | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | July 2021
The Windsors: Endgame | ★★★ | Prince of Wales Theatre | August 2021
When Darkness Falls | ★★★ | Park Theatre | August 2021
Witness For The Prosecution | ★★★★★ | London County Hall | September 2021
Yellowfin | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | October 2021
You Are Here | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2021
When Jazz Meets Flamenco | ★★★ | Lilian Baylis Studio | November 2021


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