These Demons

Amie Bawa

A captivating illustration of Jewish demonology within eighty-five minutes.
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Rachel Bellman’s play, These Demons, comes to life in an unkempt cottage set, staged at Battersea’s Theatre503 in London. A dark comedy-horror, These Demons is a layered piece that explores Jewish demonology, an arguably niche subject not often depicted in theatre, alongside otherness and familial relationships.

Reminiscent of the ‘cabin in the woods’ trope, a haunting and eerie atmosphere is immediately felt. This, however, is quickly countered by the protagonist Leah (Olivia Marcus), whose rebellious teenage attitude is bold and amusing. Visiting her aunt, Leah is surrounded by a flurry of Post-It notes and piles of Jewish folklore books as she is convinced that Talmudic demons, called mazzikims, are hiding within the walls of the cottage.

Leah’s older, seemingly perfect sister Danielle (Liv Andrusier) arrives at the cottage shortly after to take Leah home. Their fractured relationship, and distinctly different personalities, are instantly apparent. A modern family drama slowly unravels as we put together the pieces of their family history, whilst Danielle struggles to make sense of Leah’s otherworldly claims.

Whilst the demons continue to taunt the sisters with their invisible presence, the third character aunt Mirah (Ann Marcuson) is representative of the tangible ‘otherness’. Aunt Mirah is a quirky and eccentric individual, whose passion is in writing about demons and mystic Jewish rituals, which she states is somewhat unusual for Jews. She is therefore considered as an outsider amongst the Jewish community, and is also labelled as the village witch by her neighbours. Living alone and ostracized in the gloomy woods, aunt Mirah becomes a target of anti-Semitism, taunted by an elusive young boy whose shadowy presence lingers throughout the play.

Alongside the mysticism and historical folklore, These Demons focuses in on the awkward and fragile relationship between sisters Leah and Danielle, hinting at the metaphorical demons within us that can impact our relations with others. The need to understand and listen to each other before bonds can be repaired is tenderly explored, and Marcus and Adrusier deliver performances worthy of applause. Notwithstanding, Marcuson’s execution is tantalising and offers a familial warmth to the otherwise spooky play.

Skylar Turnbull Hurd’s creative use of lighting transports the audience both inside and outside of the cottage walls, maintaining a sense of creepiness. This, paired with Bellman’s well-written script and Jasmine Teo’s tight direction, it is clear why These Demons had been longlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Playwriting.

Overall, Bellman has delivered a captivating illustration of Jewish demonology within eighty-five minutes, as well as an astute commentary on sisterhood and othering. The perfect comedy-horror to complement a dreary October evening.

These Demons by Rachel Bellman is playing at the Theatre 503, Battersea now.