This lost play was written in 1950 when Osborne was just 20 and with the help of his then girlfriend Stella Linden. The play reflects the social changes taking place as Britain enters a new era of equality, casting off Victorian values and shattering the axiom that "children should be seen and not heard".
Set in a boarding house somewhere in the Welsh hills, The Devil Inside Him depicts a background familiar to a young rep actor on tour . The play’s traditional three act format with cliff-hanger endings would have been equally familiar to theatregoers of the time as would the fairly stock characters such as the talkative charlady Mrs Evans and the local lass who serves at table.
But the Prossers are a dysfunctional family and the son Hugh (Ralph Aiken) is riled, ridiculed and restrained by his puritanical parents who create a brooding atmosphere of fear and rule by a repressive regime which demands obedience and silence.
Hugh is a lost soul and a poet. When his secret journal is discovered by his parents and denounced as filth his puritanical father sends for the minister to have him exorcised.
Aiken gives an outstanding performance as Hugh, cowering in the opening scenes as he desperately tries to comes to terms with his inadequacies. He is fearful of everyone and misunderstood by almost everyone apart from new lodger Burn, a sympathetic young doctor skilfully played by Morgan James. When the young Hugh finally explodes in the final act it is with a power and passion that is formidable and frightening.
The casting is pitch perfect: Judy Clifton’s Mrs Prosser shows a woman whose emotional depths have never been allowed to surface, constrained as she is by her faith and always playing the dutiful roles of mother and wife. Her husband, powerfully played by David Broughton Thomas, is lord and master and the tension could be cut with a knife when she eventually openly defies him, possibly for the first time ever.
Olivia Ward has transformed the playing space into a convincing portrayal of the Prosser's spartan living room with nondescript wallpaper, kitchen table and a sofa that has seen better days. Its lack of colour and life contrasts sharply with the vibrancy of the hills that Hugh so lovingly describes.
The Devil Inside Him is a superb find and deserves a wider audience. Don’t miss the opportunity to see a missing masterpiece before it disappears –hopefully to the West End run it thoroughly deserves.
-- Dave Jordan