The Devil Inside

Jan 29 2016 | By More

★★★☆☆      Devilish detail

Kings Theatre: Fri 29/Sat 30 Jan 2016
Review by Susan Lowes

All the makings of a Faustian tale of darkness, damnation, intrigue and desperation are present in Scottish Opera’s The Devil Inside, at the King’s for two nights on its premiere tour.

Adapted by composer Stuart Macrae and novelist Louise Welsh from Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story The Bottle Imp, the opera tells of a bottle that can grant its owner any wish – but if you die owning it, your soul goes to hell. So you must sell it, but you can only do so for less than you paid for it.

Ben McAteer. Photo credit Bill Cooper

Ben McAteer (James). Photo credit Bill Cooper

Greed and compulsion drive the story as two young men, James (Ben McAteer) and Richard (Nicholas Sharratt), find themselves thrust into the story of the bottle. As time goes by, they begin to yearn for something more and the complexity of the story grows.

But ultimately it’s a simple story. One which Macrae and Welsh tell with simple dialogue and a simple set. In fact, the whole production is so simple, it feels as though it doesn’t quite hit the mark.

As the first act begins, Samal Blak’s set design seems crudely childlike with triangular mountains and a shining star. The music sits oddly disjointed from the singing and the overall feeling is that this story would work so much better as as a play rather than an opera.

It almost feels as though it’s a parody of the opera. Everything is exaggerated and yet so awkwardly disconnected. Perhaps this is the jarring result of thrusting a nineteenth century story into the modern day, or perhaps it’s designed that way.


Ben McAteer delivers his brilliant one-liners in such a deadpan manner and Ace McCarron lighting effects are so comical to make you think it lean towards the latter, but it’s ultimately inconclusive.

Rachel Kelly (Catherine), Ben McAteer (James). Photo: Bill Cooper

Rachel Kelly (Catherine), Ben McAteer (James). Photo: Bill Cooper

As the story progresses, James starts to want more out of life and so enters Catherine, played by Rachel Kelly as he passes the bottle on to Richard. In true boy meets girl style, they fall in love and get married. But there’s no real emotional depth, there’s no connection on stage between McAteer and Kelly, and it all seems a bit forced. Again, parody springs to mind.

A twist in the story brings Richard and the bottle back into play in the second act. Sharratt plays Richard as a man possessed. He is truly disturbing as he struggles with his addiction to the imp. His inner turmoil between desire and salvation is palpable.

But his part is too short and bittersweet as the attention is drawn back to James and Catherine’s impending damnation. They tell us they face the same sort of desperation, but unfortunately it isn’t communicated with quite as much conviction.

There’s scope to fill this opera with emotion, to grip the audience with a simple story well told. And It’s a great story – full of compulsion, darkness and desperation as time starts to run out. But instead it’s a curious detachment that permeates the stage.

That said, however, there’s a chilling final moment that is ghastly enough to ensure satisfaction as the lights black out.

Running time: 2 hours (including 20 minute interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Friday 29/Saturday 30 January 2016
Evenings: 7.15pm.
Details and tickets from

The Devil Inside is a co-production between Scottish Opera and Music Theatre Wales.
The Devil Inside on Scottish Opera’s website: Scottish Opera
The Devil Inside dedicated website with MTW: http://thedevilinside.

The Devil Inside on tour 2016:
29-30 Jan, 7.15pm Edinburgh
King’s Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
3–4 Feb, 7.45pm London
The Peacock
020 7863 8222 Book online
9 Feb, 7.30pm Cardiff
Sherman Theatre
029 2064 6900 Book online
10 Feb, 7.45pm Basingstoke
The Anvil
01256 844 244 Book online
16 Feb, 7.30pm Manchester
0161 907 5555 Book online
23 Feb, 7.30pm Aberystwyth Arts Centre
Canolfan Y Celfyddydau
01970 62 32 32 Book online
26 Feb, 7.30pm Huddersfield
Lawrence Batley Theatre
01484 430 528 Book online
10, 12-13 Mar, 8.00pm Toronto
Harbourfront Centre Theatre
Tapestry Opera Book online
3 April, 7.30pm Mold
Clwyd Theatr Cymru
01352 701 521 Book online
18 April , 7.30pm Birmingham
Repertory Theatre
0121 236 4455 Book online


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