The Scottish Opera presents The Devil Inside for its world premiere tour. Inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story, The Bottle Imp, novelist Louise Welsh and renowned Scottish composer Stuart MacRae combine forces to tell this story of ‘greed and compulsion’.
It follows the story of Richard and James, two gap-year backpackers, as they travel around a dark mountain, lost and penniless. They come across a large magnificent house where they are welcomed by an old man (Steven Page). This man then goes on to offer them the source of his wealth, an imp in the bottle, though he warns that if they too do not sell it before they die they will go to hell. The catch is the bottle must sell for less and less each time, meaning one day someone will be unable to re-sell it and thus will be condemned to hell.
It is immediately clear to the audience that the Scottish Opera has gone to great lengths to make this a contemporary and modern piece of work that should appeal to a wide variety of music lovers. Certainly it is a very different experience to their recent production of the traditional much-loved Carmen. With only four cast members it is a very small opera and the chorus is greatly missed. The Devil Inside dreadfully needed an injection of enthusiasm from a large chorus to try and tie the loose ends of the storyline together
The music, although beautiful and fantastically played, is jarring and does not lend itself well to music accompaniment for the singers. The words as well are awkward and clunky, they do not flow well and it feels that the singers are struggling to make them sound smooth and link together. There is no natural flow to the lyrics and one is left wondering why they should be sung at all? Nicholas Sharratt (playing Richard) has an incredible voice but it is let down by his character’s lyrics, many just witty one-liners preventing him from really showing the audience his range and control.
The plot itself is easy to follow and is enhanced by Samal Blak’s set. The singers very carefully outlay each scene with their clunky lyrics. The appearance of Catherine (Rachel Kelly) is a welcome addition to the dry often slightly tedious exchanges between Richard and James (Ben McAteer). She is a stunning singer and her aria in one of the acts where she discloses the disease is sublime and the lyrics are perfect in this instance. The real problem with this opera as mentioned before is the words and the music combining. They do not complement each other or allow each other to grow instead they limit themselves with their clashes and lack of flow.
The set is aesthetically pleasing, very simple it conveys each scene simply, almost childlike in its simplicity. The inclusion of shadow puppetry to portray air travel was superb and lovely, it was a very thoughtful touch by the director Matthew Richardson. The tech complements the set wonderfully and the hanging ‘stars’ are beautiful in the first half. Also deserving a mention is the ‘imp’ in the bottle – a very realistic prop that made the show far more inclusive and magical.
To conclude The Devil Inside is a well-rounded performance with a fantastic set design and extremely talented singers. The music and lyrics let the production down with its lack of flow and the jarring effect of the disjointed scores. Worth catching for a different production of an operatic show and a more modern production.