Extra Review: The Devil Inside, Theatre Royal

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A tale of wishes granted at the cost of selling one’s soul — it’s a compelling story, no matter how you tell it.

Granted, it rarely ends well for the protagonists...but we’ll get to that.

First, a confession; Scottish Opera’s The Devil Inside was my first opera. Yes, despite years of reviewing serious drama to all singing and dancing musicals, I have never had the pleasure.

But a pleasure it was, if you’ll allow a novice to have a say on it all.

Writer Louise Welsh and composer Stuart MacRae make an inventive team, taking a time-honoured classic of good vs evil — based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story — and translating it into something deceptively simple yet very effective.

Richard and James (Nicholas Sharratt and Ben McAteer) stumble, quite literally, onto the stage; cold and weary backpackers looking for shelter. They spot a grand house on the horizon — and wouldn’t it just be occupied by a strange old man (Steven Page) with tall tales to tell?

His very own bottle imp has granted his every wish but he must sell it on, and for less than he paid for it, before he dies or he’ll be damned to hell.

McAteer plays the conscience-bothered half of the duo well, although Sharratt often steals the show as the devil on his shoulder while the pair rise up in the world.

All credit to Scottish Opera’s props team here. The mysterious green bottle twinkles with a fury when the imp is disturbed, and it’s a stroke of simplistic genius — after all, the devil you don’t see is scarier than anything wardrobe is likely to conjure up.

Themes of addiction and that need for just one more thing in the age-old quest for happiness play out well in the well-paced libretto, with MacRae’s nervy score unsettling more and a stark, minimal set only adding to that feeling of dread for our main pair and Catherine, James’ afflicted wife (Rachel Kelly).

It all adds up to a gripping final act — and who will pay the ultimate and final cost for the bottle is anyone’s guess.

The Devil Inside is an intriguing, curiously Scottish yet universally recognisable tale — and perhaps a winner, as introductions to the opera world go.

The Devil Inside is on at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, January 29-30.

Also touring to: The Peacock, London; Sherman Theatre, Cardiff; The Anvil, Basingstoke; RNCM, Manchester; Aberystwyth Arts Centre; Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield; Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold; Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Tapestry Opera, Harbourfront Centre Theatre, Toronto.