Inspired by Robert Louis Stevensonâ€™s short story, The Bottle Imp, The Devil Inside takes the oldest themes in the book – greed, envy, desire, love and morality, and brings them bang up to date in this modern day commentary performed by Scottish Opera.
In keeping with Scotlandâ€™s rich tradition in fairy tales, the story weaves magical folklore, superstition and drama, cautioning us against our weaknesses and leading us to reveal our true strengths.
When two weary travellers, James and Richard, are given the opportunity to purchase a dubious looking bottle containing an Imp that promises to grant their every wish, it sounds too good to be true. Of course, it is. If the owner of the bottle dies before it has been sold on, their soul will be damned to Hell. Sounds simple; wish for all the things you desire and sell the wretched thing, quick smart. If only humans werenâ€™t so fallible our traveller friends would steer well clear.
James, the only one who has any money and who is initially very cautious, is rather bullied into buying the bottle by Richard, who is already imagining great wealth and beautiful women, giving us a first hint at how these two characters might fair in the end.
Despite money and success, James still feels something is missing. He reluctantly sells the bottle to Richard, at which point he is introduced to Catherine, the woman who will become his wife. James and Catherine are happy but for one thing – a child. On their third wedding anniversary when Catherine reveals that she is terminally ill, and not pregnant, as James thought she might be, he goes in search of Richard and the bottle, in the hope that it can save his beloved wife.
When we meet Richard again heâ€™s not in a good way. Consumed by the power of the Imp, he has sold and bought back the bottle many times, making the price dangerously low. Despite the risk James buy it for a penny, makes his wish and Catherine is restored to health. It is only now that she finds out about the bottle. Initially excited, Catherine suggests they wish for a child. James is appalled by this idea and wants to rid them of the bottle and the curse. Knowing that they cannot sell it any cheaper than a penny, they travel to a county with a lower currency denomination in the hope of selling it. James meets an old vagrant who is desperate to leave money for his family and sells him the bottle. The plot thickens. Once he has his money the old man demands that Catherine buys it back, unbeknown to James, who is distraught when he finds out. Catherine has bought the bottle for 2 centimes. Things are not looking good. As fate would have it, Richard turns up. Heâ€™s too far-gone to be saved from the pull of the Imp, and he knows it. He pushes 1 centime into Catherineâ€™s hand, grabs the bottle and makes a final wish. Catherine touches her stomach and knows that Richard has sacrificed himself to grant their wish.
The small cast kept the tension throughout and created believable characters, flawed like the rest of us. The music was deliberately jarring in places, adding to the tension.
Despite what some might think, opera is a really accessible art form; story telling is our oldest form of entertainment and Scottish Opera do a great job taking the best of new and traditional stories around the country. The quality of SOâ€™s production are second to none and they always reflect the story perfectly. The set for The Devil Inside was no exception. Sparse, colourless and steeped in an almost harsh white light, we were constantly reminded of the moral of the story; no good can come from a life chasing shallow, self-centered materialism. I read this as a comment on our wider society but try to take comfort in the fact that love always wins, well at least in fairy tales.
The world premiere of The Devil Inside is an opera in seven scenes by Stewart MacRae, co-commissioned and co-produced with Music Theatre Wales, with libretto by Louise Welsh, conducted by Michael Rafferty and directed by Mathew Richardson. Sung in English
On tour through UK and Toronto. This performance took place at the KingÂ Theatre, Edinburgh on 29th January 2016.