Lady of the manor Elizabeth (Lydia Leonard, with haughtiness and humour) is at risk of losing her country house unless her Lothario of a brother Edward (Leo Bill, aptly loud and pompous) produces an heir. But Edward is more interested in shagging the maids than settling down with a wife of his stature, like the monied Katherine (Ioanna Kimbook, who unravels exquisitely). Elizabeth employs a stable girl, Agnes (Conversations With Friends’ Alison Oliver, proving her stage prowess), who has been accused of witchcraft, to use her powers to get the house in order. But a sniff of a more lavish lifestyle leaves Agnes with her own agenda.
Women, Beware The Devil. Alison Oliver and Leo Bill. Photo: Marc Brenner
Fast-forward to the second act and what started out with echoes of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible now looks more like Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, with a servant-mistress role swap hauling the drama down a different path. But wait, there are also rumbles of a revolution galloping towards the estate, and suddenly the previously power-hungry Agnes declares she’d rather tear down the house than preserve it and, well, things end confusingly…
If Women, Beware the Devil, suffers from a bloated plot, Raczka’s script is still delicious, stuffed with quips and meaty lines to chew over. It ridicules the stereotypical characters of period dramas – none more so than overbearing man of the house Edward, who Raczka smartly belittles with empty but emphatically stated lines (‘A king is a king is a king’). As director, Almeida boss Rupert Goold is great at fuelling the pastiche, like when the house’s gossipy maids appear simultaneously, each slamming the door they’ve been eavesdropping behind.
Women, Beware The Devil. Lola Shalam, Aurora Dawson-Hunte, Carly-Sophia Davies. Photo: Marc Brenner
Miriam Buether’s set is an imposing beauty. A tiled hallway lined with panelled doors of Alice in Wonderland-style proportions trails off into an ominous, pitch-black cavity. A bed and a banqueting table appear and disappear, carrying the drama around the house, while Tim Lutkin’s lighting – a ceiling of coloured panels flowing between blues and reds – stokes the atmosphere.
It’s not always clear whether Women, Beware the Devil wants to be frightening or funny, but maybe that’s the point. Neither straight-up comedy nor gruesome tragedy (though there’s plenty of blood drawn in its witchcraft), it refuses to slot neatly into a genre. While its plot is baffling, seeing worn-out archetypes be cleverly subverted is entertaining nonetheless.
|What||Women, Beware the Devil, Almeida Theatre review|
|Where||Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street, Islington, London, N1 1TA | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Highbury & Islington (underground)|
11 Feb 23 – 25 Mar 23, 7:30 PM – 9:45 PM
|Price||£15 - £48.50|
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|