The Devil Inside, Scottish Opera and Music Theatre Wales – review by Pat Byrne
Jim and I had our first night at the opera last night (26 January, 2016), when we went along to the Theatre Royal, Glasgow to the world premiere of ‘The Devil Inside’. The opera, created by Louise Welsh, librettist, and Stuart MacRae, composer, is based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story ‘The Bottle Imp’.
It certainly was a sinister plot with the issues of greed, desire, addiction, temptation – and love – all successfully covered as the characters, (Richard, James, Catherine and the Old Man), struggle with the hold the imp in the bottle holds over them. The sinister plot kicks off when the two young backpackers, Richard and James, come across a wealthy old man who sells them the bottle with the imp inside; offering them all their hearts desire. The opportunity to acquire great riches and a charmed life comes with conditions: the bottle must be sold on, each time at a lower cost or on death the owner will face eternal damnation. The grip the imp has on the lives of the owners ,and the need to sell the bottle, are central to the opera’s eerie story as we see their lives spiralling out of control.
It makes events more enjoyable when you’re familiar with some of the creative minds behind the production. I know virtually nothing about opera so my ability to comment is somewhat limited but I am well acquainted with Louise Welsh’s writing and have often met her at literary events. I was particularly interested in the language used by the librettist, how the words were chosen to fit with the music, the phrasing and the way she brought the tale right up to date. The translation and updating of Stevenson’s story appear to me to present a complicated task but the composer and librettist’s creative partnership rises very successfully to this challenge. I can only speculate on what a tremendous work ethic the pair must have to create such a creepy, absorbing and effective production.
I was also fascinated by the set and the stage looked wonderful with changing back drops and the sensation of movement working very smoothly – with the rather threatening stage hands adding an additional touch of darkness. My interest in the props was particularly aroused as Marian Colquhoun, Head of Props at Scottish Opera, came to chat to us before the show. Marian is Jim’s cousin, whom I had never met before – previously she’d lived in London working with the Royal Opera. It seemed to me that ‘The Devil Inside’ must have been a particularly demanding venture regarding props, with a need for creative, practical and technical ability required. Like the rest of the show – the props were a triumph.
The rapturous response of the audience at the close of the world premiere could not have provided a more emphatic stamp of approval.
I’m very glad we caught the show.
Cast and Creative Team
Co-commission and Co-Production Scottish Opera and Music Theatre Wales
Music – Stuart MacRae
Words – Louise Welsh
Conductor – Michael Rafferty
Director – Matthew Richardson
Designer – Samal Blak
Lighting –Ace McCarron
Props – Marian Colquhoun
Catherine – Rachel Kelly
Richard – Nicholas Sharratt
James – Ben McAteer
Old Man/Vagrant – Steven Page
27 January, 2016
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