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These Demons by Rachel Bellman at Theatre503 | Review

Rachel Bellman’s debut full-length play These Demons has some things in common with her earlier piece Mazzikim and Maltesers and pits two Jewish sisters against each other and against the mythology that underpins their faith. Drawing on elements of Judaic lore and the complexities of family relationships, Bellman’s script is funny, insightful and at times downright thrilling as it incorporates tropes of the horror film genre being set largely in a cabin-in-the-woods style cottage with someone, or something, prowling in the woods outside.

These Demon - Theatre503 - credit Lidia Crisafulli.
These Demon – Theatre503 – credit Lidia Crisafulli.

There is a cast of three: Leah (Olivia Marcus), a teenager who blames herself for the break-up of her parents’ marriage; her “suck up” older sister Danielle (Liv Andrusier); and their aunt Mirah (Ann Marcuson), an academic and author of many books on the Talmud and, in particular Judaic demonology. Olivia Marcus has the most difficult job for she is some years older than her character and, while she has marvellous comic timing, the subtleties of her performance are sometimes a little lost in stompy petulance and too frequent open-mouthed bafflement at her older sister’s inability to grasp whatever it is Leah is trying to convey to her. By contrast, Liv Andrusier is more nuanced as a young woman who has taken the road more travelled and consequently struggles with anything out of the ordinary. And, as Aunt Mirah, Ann Marcuson strikes a careful balance between the maternal and the mystic.

There are one or two jarringly tyro moments in the script – do we really need a burst of Barbara Streisand or a micro-rant about the lack of Jewish people at senior levels in John Lewis? – and Jasmine Teo’s direction is occasionally more apparent than it should be. But, overall, this is an excellent production with strong performances from the cast and also from the technical team. In particular, the sense that the sisters and Mirah’s isolated cottage are beset by dangers invisible as well as visible is accentuated by Sophie Firth’s beguilingly simple set, which merges the cottage with the woods around it, and by Niamh Gaffney’s superbly conceived and executed sound design which is complemented by the lighting design of Skylar Turnbull Hurd.

The atmospheric and intriguing These Demons can be seen at Battersea’s Theatre503 until the 14th of October.

4 stars

Review by Louis Mazzini

“You’re telling me you don’t know the steps to a sixteenth-century Jewish exorcism?”

When an event puts her aunt Mirah in hospital, 17-year-old Leah takes it upon herself to find the perpetrator and exact revenge. But as she puts together her plan, the lines of reality become blurred. Her search for answers becomes a search for demons – metaphorical and…not. Despite what her sister Danielle tells her, the shadows in their aunt’s remote cottage seem to move. Surrounded by books about Jewish exorcisms, the two sisters fight the sinking suspicion that they’re not alone.

THESE DEMONS is a thrilling dark comedy-horror exploring family ties, sisterhood, and Jewish demonology. It’s the debut play of Rachel Bellman, directed by Jasmine Teo (Director, The Bevin Boys – London Pub Theatres’ best new play raising awareness 2019; Associate Director, Graceland, Royal Court), produced by Tanya Truman Productions (Pickle, Park Theatre) and Theatre503.

The production is supported by Arts Council England, JW3, Stage One Bursary, and Tsitsit.

Running time: Approx. 85 minutes (no interval)

ARTISTIC TEAM
WRITER Rachel Bellman
DIRECTOR Jasmine Teo
SET & COSTUME DESIGNER Sophie Firth
LIGHTING DESIGNER Skylar Turnbull Hurd
SOUND DESIGNER Niamh Gaffney for Autograph
MOVEMENT DIRECTOR Laura Wohlwend
COSTUME ASSOCIATE Peiyao Wang
PRODUCTION MANAGER Laurel Marks
STAGE MANAGER Waverley Moran

CAST
LEAH Olivia Marcus
DANIELLE Liv Andrusier
MIRAH Ann Marcuson

https://theatre503.com/

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