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Updated: Mar 26, 2023

A Dig Deeper Article by Production Dramaturg Brett Dahl.

Photo by Gianna Bonello on Unsplash

In the late 1950s, the Royal Shakespeare Company commissioned English actor, playwright, and critic John Whiting to adapt Aldous Huxley’s 1952 novel The Devils of Loudon, which premiered as The Devils in 1961 at the Aldwych Theatre. While much of Whiting’s version closely follows Huxley’s account of the historical events, he made several significant departures for the sake of dramatic cohesion.

One key change Whiting made was to the timeline of Grandier's relationship with women across the town of Loudon. Historically Grandier’s relationship with Philippe Trincant began at least two years before the possessions erupted. Sometime between 1629 - 1630, Philippe gave birth to a son, widely believed to be Grandier’s, although Trincant never publicly admitted it during Grandier’s trials. Whiting combines two figures from Huxley’s novel (Madeline de Brou and Philipe Trincant) to place the action within the time of the possessions.

Avid readers making comparisons between the book and play might also note another invention of Whiting’s, which is the creation of the role of the Sewerman—a chorus-like character who appears almost exclusively to Grandier. The Sewerman adds a new understanding of Loudon’s underworld in a play obsessed with imagery of heaven and hell. Beneath all the pomp and ceremony of the Church and aristocracy lives a humble man cleaning up their filth.

Whiting’s version also focuses on the tension between Grandier and Jeanne, though they never meet in person. Whiting casts Grandier and Jeanne as opposing forces moving on inverse trajectories, one haunted by the other. While The Devils was later used as a source text for Ken Russell’s infamous film (also titled The Devils) and Krzysztof Penderecki’s opera Die Teufel von Loudun, neither adaptation follows Whiting’s mirroring of his two central figures.

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