The Devil Inside review at Theatre Royal Glasgow – ‘subtle and daring’
Buoyed up by a small yet strong cast, and blessed with a scenic design that mirrors Louise Welsh’s austere libretto, The Devil Inside offers a metaphysical meditation on the dangerous line between ambition and addiction. Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s story, The Devil Inside follows the consequences of a bargain with demonic power: in exchange for unlimited good fortune, a demon trapped inside a bottle will take the owner to hell, unless they are able to sell the bottle, at a lower price than was paid for it, before their death.
Welsh’s subtle adaptation plays up the capitalist implications of the deal, with the protagonist James – played by Ben McAteer – using the gift to build a financial empire. Yet in this final act, as James and his wife attempt to escape the curse, a secondary theme – of love and self-sacrifice – overtakes the political dimensions in a fussy finale.
The sparse, suggestive set – a bed, white curtains, a screen for shadow puppetry – remakes the action as a symbolic drama. Timeless and abstract, it brings out opera’s anti-naturalism and allows meditation on the consequences of desire.
Stuart MacRae’s score is unsettling and evocative, encasing the performers in a sonic world of shadows and anxiety. While the sparse language occasionally reduces the physical performances to illustrations of the words, the music conjures an encroaching, disorientating menace. The last act is rushed and unsuccessfully tries to reconcile redemption with Faustian economics, yet this daring production expresses a distinctive Scottish identity.
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