If you go down to Corpus Playroom today, you better not go alone...Chris Lorde with permission for Varsity

“Hush, little baby don’t you cry”: creepy yet cliche, an attempt at innovation but ultimately slightly overdone. My mind was cast to the modern trend of singing “Ring-A-Ring-A-Roses” in horror films, an unsettling concept that ultimately evokes eye-rolling. In this sense, the use of this nursery rhyme within Devil’s Drum was a perfect microcosm of the play as a whole.

Devil’s Drum is an original play written and directed by Izzy Lane, and co-directed by Jack Marley. The play tiptoes across the threshold between fairytale and reality, setting up all the action in the context of ghost stories being told by three young sisters in the woods. Intending to present a show which creatively portrays the overlap between the horror of British folklore and the vivid imagination of young children, the play felt like it was grasping at a deeper vision which was never fully actualised, perhaps due to the short run time of only half an hour. Echoes of Into the Woods came to the forefront, but these moments in the woods of Corpus Playroom were sadly too momentary.

“The play tiptoes across the threshold between fairytale and reality”

The ingenuity of the direction was commendable, particularly the play’s reliance on intense audience involvement throughout. Through fourth wall breaks, setting actors among the audience during storytelling, it felt as though they were watching the stories unfold in front of them alongside us. This added greatly to the eeriness built through sound, which initially had a Celtic, folk feel, but soon descended into the chirps and whistling of the woods, before returning to an unnerving underscore, ramping up the tension.

The acting performances in the show were very strong, especially from the four storytellers, whose commitment to the over-the-top physicality made the snappy scenes feel immersive. Both Sophia Orr and Jacob Coughlan shone in their storyteller roles, with Orr delivering a compelling monologue about her character’s wedding day, and Coughlan bursting through the audience during his portrayal of “Jack, spring-heeled Jack.” The sudden unison chanting which occurred in the “Jack” scene made a welcome change in dynamic and volume, breaking the repetitiveness of the girls in the woods and the narration of the storytellers.

“Both Sophia Orr and Jacob Coughlan shone in their storyteller roles”

It is difficult as an adult to write and portray young children in a nuanced and subtle way, and, unfortunately, this production fell into the trap of the young girls feeling unrealistic and a tad overacted. The constant repetition of lines such as “that was too scary” felt tired by the end, and while the wide-eyed sparkle and curiosity of Abi Beton’s middle sister was impressive, ultimately the three lost souls came off more as caricatures than sympathetic figures.

The play’s climax presented us with a plot twist, further blurring the lines between the monstrous figments of their imaginations and their existence in the world as girls collecting firewood. The crescendo of the performances leading up to the lightbulb moment was genuinely stomach-churning, but the final twist could be anticipated from the initial set-up. Again, perhaps with more time to explore the connections between fiction and reality, the ending could have been fleshed out more strongly to increase its shock factor. That being said, it did lend itself to allowing us to see the three lost souls deliver their strongest scene, being able to portray genuine terror as opposed to the childlike unease that arises from having listened to a scary story.


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As a whole, the play delivers its purpose of retelling stories from British folklore in an exciting and captivating manner. Nevertheless, as an audience, we were not presented with something which we would not have encountered before amid the modern fad of repackaging classic tales. That doesn’t detract from it being a creative show packed full of gripping performances. All that is left to say is: if you go down to Corpus Playroom today, you better not go alone…

Devil’s Drum is showing at Corpus Playroom from Wednesday the 15th to Saturday the 18th of May.