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Rachel Bellman - These Demons Interview

These Demons is a thrilling new dark comedy- horror and the debut play of Rachel Bellman, exploring family ties, sisterhood, and Jewish demonology. Set in modern-day Britain, These Demons is a family drama which rethinks the mainstream narrative around Jewish stories. Directed by Jasmine Teo (Director, The Bevin Boys – London Pub Theatres’ Best New Play Raising Awareness 2019; Associate Director, Graceland, Royal Court), Produced by Tanya Truman (Pickle, Soho Theatre, Park Theatre, UK Tour), it explores themes of antisemitism, sexism, and the stigma of the ‘village witch’.

When an incident puts her aunt Mirah in hospital, 17-year-old Leah takes it upon herself to find the perpetrator and exact revenge. But as she puts together her plan, the lines of reality become blurred. Her search for answers becomes a search for demons - metaphorical and... not. Despite what her sister Danielle tells her, the shadows in their aunt’s remote cottage seem to move. Surrounded by books about Jewish exorcisms, the two sisters fight the sinking suspicion that they’re not alone.

These Demons delves into what it means to feel ‘other’, whether through culture, age, or willingness to conform. It weaves together different types of demons from historical texts and sources in ways that can be interpreted literally and metaphorically as well as mythologically. Throughout its development, Director Jasmine Teo has also drawn on her own unique perspective as an East Asian creative to highlight common systemic inequalities present in modern British society, reflected in this specific Jewish story.

I spoke with writer Rachel Bellman to discuss the play further.

What inspired you to write the piece?
The core inspiration was when I stumbled across the concept of Jewish demons, which actually happened while I was doing research for a completely different play. I was immediately obsessed with why no one I knew had told me about them, and quickly found out that this was because the vast majority of my family and Jewish friends didn’t know about them either. I spoke to a rabbi who confirmed that – yes – demons are a small part of some key religious and historical Jewish texts, but we simply don’t like to talk about them and they’re not part of the various strands of mainstream Judaism that most people practice today. From there it was about building a story about the darker aspects of our identity that feel unknowable, weird, and different.
How did you approach bringing the script to life?
By working with a director and producer (Jasmine Teo and Tanya Truman) early on, and being lucky (and persistent) enough to do a couple ACE-funded R&Ds first! As the play draws on the horror genre while also incorporating comedic moments, it’s been important to balance the tone and figureout how it feels off the page. Sound has been really important from the start because the protagonist is convinced she hears ‘noises’ in the cottageSimilarly the visuals of the haunting are a vital part of the story. Over the course of the play’s development we’ve been making sure it’s scary in a believable rather than cheesy way, and while still letting the audience invest in the characters.
Did you have to do much research whilst developing the production?
I’ve done quite a bit of research over the course of developing the script. Mostly into Jewish demonology, as I wanted to make sure the ideas in the play are rooted in real religious, historical and ideological texts, while still being respectful. I’ve also spoken with a couple rabbis about the topic. Aside from that it’s been important to work with Jewish and non-Jewish people throughout the process, and also with a sensitivity reader, because even though I’m Jewish myself I wanted to be sensitive to other people’s lived experience. Time will tell if I’ve done a good job, but I know I’ve tried.
Did you have a target audience in mind when writing the show?
Honestly I wasn’t so much thinking of target audiences while writing as I was thinking about telling a good story, and focusing on what felt right for the characters. However I’d say this play is for anyone who is a fan of new writing and keen to see an original story which many people have said feels different from anything they’ve seen before.  

What do you think the show says to an audience?
I find this question so hard! From my perspective, I wanted to tell a story about feeling a bit ‘other’, whether through culture, identity or past experience, and the way that we often fear this otherness even when it’s in ourselves or those we know and love. At the same time I think it’s a show about acceptance, and which encourages us to embrace the differences between us and the things we don’t understand. 
Could you describe the play in three words?
Thrilling. Moving. Original.

These Demons plays at Theatre 503 in London from Tuesday 26th September until Saturday 14th October. demons/

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