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Look Sharp’s ‘A Devil Inside’: Astoundingly, Unashamedly Twisted and Absurd.

Updated: Dec 22, 2022

Spoilers abound…

Photos credits to James Bosher

Struck by the stunning, hand-painted setpieces that dotted the stage of Banham Theatre, Look Sharp’s production of A Devil Inside had me optimistically curious for my Wednesday night’s entertainment. Having decided (mostly due to looming deadlines) to go into this one blind, my first inkling as to the show’s true identity came from both Eva Lafontan’s brilliant promotion material and Director’s note that had an air of the poetic. Though, even having read up on the play online once I got out of the theatre, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the nail-biting emotional rollercoaster brought to us by this newly blossoming company. Hats off especially to co-directors Lewis Fraser and Luke Haywood and the rest of the production team - the show was truly brought together by its striking lighting and stylised set design from Matt Harrup and Saffy Wehren.

So, how do I begin? We are first introduced to the barely-functional family duo of single mother Mrs. Slater and her skateboarding son Gene, played by Alisha Walton and Sam Sheridan respectively. Gene is our Watson - the (for the most part) mundane uni student being swept along in the chaos of our five other larger-than-life characters - and Sheridan does a remarkable job of keeping us grounded in the reality of it all. His fairly straight-faced, naturalistic acting carries the perfect sense of awkward youthful bravado, a baseline which paves the way for some seriously meaty deliveries of emotional moments later in the play. As the absurdity of his surroundings began to take a toll, Sheridan embodied an impactful character shift with deliveries that had me constantly at the edge of my seat and taking notes became an afterthought.

As for Mrs. Slater, Walton’s presentation of the conspiratorial, grudge-holding, bastion of ‘family tradition’ was a genuine highlight of the show. With some really believable voice work and body language, Walton carried a brilliantly no-nonsense response to some of even the most unbelievable and chaotic scenes. Ornamented with various trinkets of dead relatives and sporting facial expressions with an air of the unhinged and the sinister - she really brought a depth to the character that had me constantly questioning the assumptions I had made.

Morgan King’s role as Brad was, in act 1, equal parts charming and unassuming. Portraying a real warmth and chemistry with all the rest of the cast, his turn towards the show’s conclusion made it just that much more heartbreaking as a concussion-turned-devilish dragged him - feverishly kicking and screaming - into the depths. Hiding out in Brad’s spare room, Liv Blythe stood out as the paranoid, evasive Lily - constantly impressing with her commitment to the nervous, jumpy body language that really sold the character. These two became the clutch of a number of the show’s act 2 reveals as plot threads began to all come together and - whilst these were occasionally delivered in a clunky ‘rabbit out of the hat’ reveal - there were certainly moments where some of the major twists were delivered by a character who rightly wouldn’t react at all, leaving the audience reeling as they pieced the clues together themselves.

Tom Davy had by far some of the most wordy and sophisticated lines as Russian Lit professor Carl, which he delivered admirably and with no noticeable stumbles. He carefully blended tropes of the tortured academic with an air of classic villainy, pushed only further into darkness by his secret admirer. The hugely intense Flo Granger brilliantly portrayed the dark, twisted, and obsessed Caitlin - all the while maintaining a cheery and sickly sweet demeanour that I’m sure had much of the audience fooled before the reveal of just how deep her ‘crush’ went. Granger utilised a superb comedic timing on some of the show’s darkest bits, often causing the audience to erupt in (perhaps slightly disturbed) laughter.

Diverging from the original NYC setting, this production brings us a little closer to home along the Humber - imbuing within a sense of dark old British horror reminiscent of parts Jack the Ripper and parts Lovecraft. Though perhaps the show’s references to Russian literature would be appreciated more by audience members ‘in the know’, the cast’s impeccable delivery and compelling direction from co-directors Fraser and Haywood kept the story accessible and highly engaging to the uninformed (whom I count myself amongst the ranks of).

Truly the standout scene - or should I say scenes - came near the climax of the play where five of our six cast delivered two simultaneous, calamitous confrontations with two dialogues maintained concurrently in a delicious chaos that I just about managed to follow. Truly a testament to the talent and immense amount of work contributed by the cast and crew. With many coming off the back of productions at the Edinburgh Fringe, this is a team just brimming with enthusiasm and potential. I am truly thrilled to see what Look Sharp has in store for us next.

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A Devil Inside is playing for one more night on thursday the 15th in Banham theatre, get tickets here.

Follow Look Sharp online @looksharptheatre on insta !

Review by Callie O’Brien

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