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I'll Be The Devil - Tricycle Theatre (Review)

I'll Be The Devil; Photograph: Tristram Kenton

Review by Rebecca Omonira-<br>Oyekanmi

AFTER a long and tiring day I fought my way from the Northern to Jubilee line on London’s Tube to get to Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre. I felt weary and considered getting back on the train and seeing I’ll Be The Devil another night when I could give it my full attention.

I needn’t have worried. Leo Butler’s enigmatic play had me – and the rest of the audience – enthralled from start to finish.

The curtain rose and the stage filled with the essence of the play. A mist obscured a strange scene with a young man nailed to a cross who, as his sister cleaned his body in “preparation for the lord”, cursed and spoke of the devil.

Butler’s play, newly commissioned by the RSC, is set in British-controlled Limerick in 1762 and shows the horrors of that occupation. The garrisons stationed in the region committed various horrific acts of cruelty against natives who practised the then ‘illegal’ Catholicism and to anyone who got in their way.

I’ll Be The Devil imagines the complicity of Irishmen who took part in the cruelty betraying their own. This is best personified in the plight of Lieutenant Coyle and his Catholic lover, Maryanne, as they sacrifice their love and their children to the occupiers.

But Butler’s play is not about star-crossed lovers. It’s a graphic depiction of the worst of humanity and relentlessly shows how ordinary people become complicit conspirators in torture and rape.

The production conveys this magically. Each scene works its way up to a shocking truth in such a way that you find yourself holding your breath for the duration of the play.

The production is hugely charismatic with an expertly designed set adding to the tension of each scene and ensuring the audience’s full attention.

Part of the play’s power in the engaging performance of its actors. In every scene they portray beautifully the tragedy of cruelty and the often destructive zeal of skewed politics. The irony of this is Butler’s response to the Iraq war.

This seems a skewed view of the war, which is, yes, illegal, but thanks to the efforts of NGOs, foreign observers and Iraq journalists most injustice is bought to the attention of the world and widely condemned.

And so soldiers, unlike in the time that Butler depicts, will be held accountable for abuse and torture of civilians. However, the author’s intentions in no way hinder the play’s power.

The only reservation I had about the play is that it’s so relentlessness that come the end you can almost hear the audience breathe a collective sigh of relief and exhaustion.

I’ll be the Devil, a new RSC commission, ran at Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre from February 21 to March 8, 2008. Call the box office on 020 7328 1000 or visit the website to find out more about future productions.