Women, Beware the Devil at the Almeida Theatre is a visually stunning production and it is nice to see so many women on stage at once. However, beyond all the sumptuous set design; conjuring up a Jacobean house, with overflowing tables full of food it’s hard to understand the point of the play if indeed there is one.
The story centres on a stable girl, Agnes (outstanding performance by Alison Oliver) who is accused of witchcraft. Then it gets confusing, the lady of the house Elizabeth (a power house performance by Lydia Leonard) wants to use Agnes’s powers to ensure her safety and refuge in the house by securing a child for her brother. Or at least that is what I understood. The first half contains several storylines, one where all the maids accuse Agnes of witchcraft, then where Agnes as lady’s maid tries to the lady Katherine (Ioanna Kimbook) because her husband, Edward (played with glee by Leo Bill) refuses to consummate the marriage. For the second half, the comedy is left and what we see unfold is hell and desperation played out in bloody terror on stage complete with lots of women shrieking at one another.
Women, Beware the Devil features a sumptuous set design by Miriam Buether that transports the audience to Jacobean England. Every scene is picture perfect and director, Rupert Goold provides space for both the eyes and ears to see and hear what is being said.
Playwright Lulu Raczka’s decision to have the devil (Nathan. Armarkwei-Laryea) deliver a brief monolgue at the beginning might not have been the wisest. It might have been better to have plunged the audience directly into the action without any signposting. Before we are transported, he says that it is long but enjoyable. I’m all for saying it how it is but there is nothing more irritating than someone, even the devil, telling you how you will feel come the end.
At its beating heart is this play trying to say that the devil comes in many forms, and sometimes we as women are our own worst enemies without support for each other? It is not entirely clear, however, it is a fun production and there are lots of moments of brevity. The acting is also good, therefore, maybe see this for what is an experiment in how one might define evil and whether anything has actually changed. Who are we actually condemning; those who have done wrong, those we are scared of, or those that are the weakest?
Women, Beware the Devil is at the Almeida theatre, London until 25 March.