Ruth Leon recommends…Women, Beware the Devil – Almeida Theatre

Ruth Leon recommends…Women, Beware the Devil – Almeida Theatre

Ruth Leon recommends

norman lebrecht

March 19, 2023

Women, Beware the Devil – Almeida Theatre

There’s a rather odd but very enjoyable play at the Almeida. Set in 1640 it’s about a servant girl called Agnes who truly, genuinely, obsessively, wants to be a good girl. And, if possible, a Lady, like her employer, the glint-eyed Lady Elizabeth who truly, genuinely, obsessively wants to keep her ancestral home no matter what her wastrel brother does to subvert her. Her only hope is that her brother (a lovely performance from Leo Bill) will produce a male offspring but he’s showing no interest in the insipid bride Lady Elizabeth has found for him.

Desperate, the Lady Elizabeth (Lydia Leonard) decides that her servant Agnes (Alison Oliver) is a witch although, between ourselves, there’s nothing much but spiteful servants’ gossip holding up that idea, and she enlists Agnes’ putative witchcraft to persuade the errant groom to do the necessary, in which she succeeds rather better than she intended. Making him her sexual slave provides Agnes with her longed-for step-up to being a Lady until it all falls apart.

Complicating matters further is the Devil, an amusing but less than compelling evil spirit in the corporeal shape of Nathan Armarkwei-Laryea complete with horns, who seems willing to help the plot along in the direction of evil when his influence is needed.

At least, I think that’s what happens. By halfway through, you’re not sure whether you’re supposed to believe all this nonsense or whether the playwright, Lulu Raczka, intends you to have a good giggle as many of us in the audience were doing. She may be making serious anachronistic points about modern-day inequalities in wealth and gender, about women’s propensity for power and evil, and whether you can be a wicked woman without being a witch.

In any event, Women, Beware The Devil lays it all out in a highly entertaining manner. It all comes down to whether you believe in witchcraft or whether all this plotting and spells stuff comes down to good old human venality.

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