The wind howls. The lights flicker. A girl scurries onto the stage, frantically scribbling on post-it notes and reading from a thick tome about the mazzikim, a Jewish demon which I suspect most of the audience is unfamiliar with, but with which we are about to become intimately acquainted.
At the opening of These Demons, a complex and multifaceted piece written by Rachel Bellman and directed by Jasmine Teo, Leah (Olivia Marcus) is holed up in her aunt’s cottage in the woods and elder sister Danielle (Liv Andrusier) has come to fetch her home. But, as the night draws on, the pair must grapple with both literal and metaphorical demons.
Family drama presents as compelling a mystery to unravel here as the gradually-dispersed clues to a demonic presence: the feathers floating from the ceiling, the radio which turns on by itself, the scuttling sounds in the walls. As the sisters attempt to deal with this, they must also grapple with the real-world issues of antisemitism, identity, and family ties.
The present-day action is interspersed with flashbacks, through which we meet Aunt Mirah (Ann Marcuson), who provides much of the background both to the Jewish demonology and the underlying family tensions, without this ever feeling forced or expositional.
Indeed, the dialogue flows naturally throughout, aided by the chemistry between the performers. There is no weak link in the small cast, with all three actresses bringing their characters to life brilliantly. Marcus plays Leah with a wonderful intensity, making her truly frightening in some of the later scenes, while Andrusier’s portrayal of Danielle’s increasingly brittle control was a standout for me. Marcuson, meanwhile, is at her best when showing us a glimpse of the dichotomy between what Mirah says and what she wants to say.
Set design by Sophie Firth makes excellent use of the small space, initially heightening the isolation and claustrophobia of the script before clever use of translucent backdrops combined with lighting from Skylar Turnbull Hurd enables the stage to open up in later scenes. The lighting, along with sound design by Niamh Gaffney, also sets up the mood of the piece well, providing a haunted house atmosphere without relying on jump scares.
These Demons is a ghost story, but it is also a family drama, and one which poses important questions about how we treat others, the consequences of our actions, and whether it is better to stand out or to blend in. It is atmospheric. It is gripping. It is urgent. See it without delay.
These Demons runs at Theatre 503 until 14 October. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Lidia Crisafulli