These Demons

Reviewer's rating

Theatre503 runs in small space above a pub in Battersea. It provides opportunities for new writers to try out their work and a performing space that is ideally suited to the sort of dramas where having audience and performers up close really enhances the impact. And this intriguing play works very well in this setting. It is a strange mixture of dark comedy, family tragedy and horror story – but it makes a mark that lasts long after the lights go back on.

Danielle (Liv Andrusier) turns up at an isolated cottage looking for her teenage sister Leah (Olivia Marcus) who has gone missing.  The cottage belongs to their aunt Mirah (Ann Marcuson) who it becomes clear has become a substitute mother to Leah. She refuses to return home with her sister and gradually the reason for this reluctance, and for the absence of her aunt, is revealed. Leah is convinced that there are young villagers about to attack the cottage. But she also fears that there may be demons threatening the cottage and proposes a Jewish exorcism to dispel them. We are constantly offered different explanations for the strange sounds that terrify the women and for the mysterious events that may – or may not –  be threatening their safety. While these disturbing events are unfolding we also learn about the family story that has left Leah such a disturbed young woman and so drawn to her eccentric aunt, who we meet in a series of flashbacks.

All three actors are excellent. Olivia Marcus is so convincing as a disturbed teenager  – tantrums and all – that the supernatural side of the story sometimes seems unnecessary to explain the strange events. It could all be her teenage fantasies. As her “perfect” sister, Liv Andrusier has just that quality of fragile self possession that lets us know that it will shatter under pressure. And, as the aunt with outsider credentials, Ann Marcuson is entirely convincing – with a raffish glamour and a good line in stories old and new that may have become exaggerated in the telling.

The simple set is very clever given the limitations of the stage area. The actors, and the lighting designer, find a way to allow the action to flow speedily between the inside of the cottage and the scary garden outside and to ensure the flashbacks are clearly signalled without causing dislocation to the flow of the drama. And the sound effects and the lighting are well directed so that the moments of horror really do work.

This is an intriguing but ultimately slight piece that has its share of family drama conventions – and a couple of haunted house cliches to be going on with. I couldn’t help wondering whether it would have worked better as a TV drama where the actors would have been talking more directly to each other rather than half outward into the audience …. and it could have been set on location in a country cottage. But these reservations apart, the quality of the performances, and the ingenuity of the Jasmine Teo’s direction, made for a fine evening of small-scale drama.