The Devil Inside, Music Theatre Wales, Peacock Theatre, February 2016Posted on 4 February 2016
This excellent collaboration between composer Stuart MacRae and novelist Louise Welsh brings to life Robert Louis Stephenson’s tale The Bottle Imp, about a demon trapped in a bottle. He will grant your every wish, but there is a catch. Anyone owning the bottle at death is condemned to eternal damnation, and an owner can only sell it for less they bought it. Oh, and the bottle cannot confer youthfulness or immortality.
This Faustian pact allows escape at any time, provided you can find a buyer, which is complicated by the caveat emptor that you must inform them of the facts. As the price lowers so does the reticence of potential purchasers, and both the original story and opera take it down to the line. As eternal damnation beckons the opera provides a different ending, more theatrical and embodying self-sacrifice.
The main protagonists Richard and James are first seen seeking shelter one stormy night when they encounter an Old Man who sells them the bottle. He immediately starts to recover from the weight that held him down, slave to his own slave the bottle imp. The young men grow wealthy in material possessions and James acquires a beautiful wife, Catherine. The world is their oyster, but complications ensue, and the limpid text and its clear musical realisation is enhanced by superb diction and clever stage effects that cost as little as the final price of the bottle in comparison to those that self-indulgent directors sometimes inflict on audiences at the country’s most prestigious opera houses.
The bottle itself, shining occasionally with green malevolence, is a central feature, and I loved the lowering of darkness at the rear of the set before final act of self-sacrifice. Excellent direction and dramaturgy by Matthew Richardson, with designs by Samal Blak, helps this opera to provide a lesson not only in the desires that compel us, but the ability of human nature to confront them.
Strongly convincing performances by tenor Nicholas Sharratt as the impulsive Richard who finds himself on a downward path, by baritone Ben McAteer as the steadier James, with soprano Rachel Kelly as his lovely wife, who tries to find a way out their dilemma, and by Steven Page as the Old Man at the start and the unpleasantly canny vagrant towards the end. Michael Rafferty’s conducting gave great clarity to Stuart MacRae’s dramatically effective music for the fourteen musicians, and this represents a triumph for Music Theatre Wales, and for Scottish Opera, which saw the first of these performances in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
After performances in London it tours to: Cardiff, Feb 9; Basingstoke, Feb 10; Manchester, Feb 16; Aberystwyth, Feb 23; Huddersfield, Feb 26; Toronto, March 10–13; Mold, April 3; and Birmingham, April 18 — for details click here.