As the days grow colder (well, at least in theory, given the ever-present global warming), and pumpkin spice lattes haunt your favourite cafes, you know it’s officially spooky season. And when October rolls around, there’s nothing quite like experiencing the thrills and chills of London theatre.
In the recent years, the reigning champion of creepy plays has been “2:22 Ghost Story,” now enjoying its sixth revival as it embarks on a UK tour after 5 seasons in the West End. With its balanced blend of modern creepiness and goosebump-inducing moments, it garnered multiple reviews on all ends of the spectrum.
But in 2023, a new contender has emerged. Perhaps a bit less flashy, performed in the cosy confines of a small south London pub theatre, but it boasts an exceptionally talented cast – including Liv Andrusier, who won audience’s hearts in “Ride” at Charing Cross Theatre last year.
“These Demons” had me hooked from the moment I read the description. A fresh, original tale with demons and exorcisms? Add an all-female cast into the mix, and my heart was brimming with anticipation even before I stepped foot into the Theatre 503 auditorium.
These Demons – the story
Following an incident that lands her aunt Mirah in the hospital, 17-year-old Leah assumes the role of investigator, determined to track down the responsible party and deliver retribution.
However, as she pieces together her plan, the boundaries of reality begin to blur. Her quest for answers morphs into a hunt for more than just culprits; it delves into the realms of demons, both figurative and… otherworldly.
Despite her sister Danielle’s reassurances, the shadows lurking in their aunt’s secluded cottage appear to possess a life of their own. Surrounded by volumes detailing Jewish exorcisms, the two siblings grapple with a growing suspicion that they might not be the sole occupants of the eerie dwelling.
Set Design and Spooky Vibes
The stage design effectively transports you to candlelit evenings with friends, where you’d gather to call out to spirits or try your hand at Ouija board seance. Stacks of old books on Jewish demons, a towering broken window, and walls covered in sticky notes create an eerie ambiance. And keep an eye on the ceiling; I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say you’ll never look at white feathers the same way again after experiencing this play.
While the cast may be small, all three leading ladies craft wonderfully relatable characters with their own motivations and backstories, unveiled gradually as the story unfolds.
Liv Andrusier, whom I greatly admired in “Ride,” (see the review here) delivers a compelling performance as Danielle, the older sister. The character occasionally tiptoes towards the realm of career-driven stereotypes, but Liv breathes life into her, making her feel authentic and relatable. As an older sister myself, I couldn’t help but relate to her protective yet occasionally awkward dynamic.
Olivia Marcus, portraying Leah, the younger sister, steals the spotlight in “These Demons.” While her character initially appears carefree, when the play reaches its climactic finale, the fear and determination in her eyes gave me goosebumps.
Ann Marcuson as Mirah plays a role of a crazy aunt, with no cooking skills but a lot of heart for her friends and family. Mirah’s character adds a lot of warmth into this otherwise colder play. She also hides a couple of secrets, some of which are tackled later in the play. Her effortless ability to tug at the audience’s emotional strings and guide us through the intricacies of Jewish demon lore is truly impressive.
Thrills, Chills, and Family Drama
Story-wise, “These Demons” offers hints and suggestions rather than fully explained plot points—a perfect approach for a ghost story where the unexplained is part of the thrill.
The play strikes a balance between comedy and jump scares, with a dose of family drama thrown in for good measure. It tilts slightly more into the funny side, however if you are triggered by blood, you may want to give this show a miss (there are some seriously bloody moments present).
Journey into Jewish Culture and Mythology
If you enjoy a good dose of creepy legends and have heard of the terrifying Lilith from Jewish mythology, “These Demons” will pique your curiosity. It drops hints and references to myths and stories from Jewish culture, sparking an irresistible urge to embark on a Wikipedia and storybook exploration spree. Consider yourself warned; cultural meandering awaits!
During the eerie season of the year, “These Demons” at Theatre 503 is a fantastic match with the aura outside the window, promising an evening of laughter, spine-tingling thrills, and a newfound fascination with the mysteries of Jewish folklore. Don’t miss this enchanting gem that adds a bewitching twist to the October theatre scene.
I received the ticket to see the show in exchange for an honest review
Written by Rachel Bellman
Directed by Jasmine Teo
5-14 October 2023