The Woman as the enduring Spirit of the Age

 “For Robert Holman who lit the way.”

Alistair McDowall’s dedication of The Glow.

As we all experience the loss of so many during the pandemic it is natural to think about the existence of the afterlife.  People will go to spiritualists to be put in touch with their departed and others will find religion as the hope of an afterlife and an explanation for death and suffering. 

In Alistair McDowall’s new play, The Glow  a mysterious woman (Ria Zmitrowicz) finds herself in different scenarios from Life with the Cavemen to the present day.  We first meet her incarcerated in an asylum like Bedlam where Mrs Lyall (Rakie Ayola) a well known spiritualist will rescue her and train her as an assistant in her sessions as a medium. 

Mrs Lyall has herself been threatened with psychiatric care by her husband because of her pre-occupation with matters spiritual and gains the trust of the woman whom she names Sadie.  Mrs Lyall’s son Mason (Fisayo Akinade) resents the newcomer and many of his reactions inspire our laughter. 

The shorter first act features Mrs Lyall’s scary séance or “demonic ritual” as Mason calls it.  We are in the dark and get the occasional glimpse of Mrs Lyall’s blue shoes and matching petticoat as she patrols the stage.  There is a crash and screams and Mrs Lyall and the woman unleash sinister spirit noises.  Sadie speaks in Latin.  Mason is terrified.

Ria Zimitrowicz as The Woman and Rakie Ayola as Mrs Lyall and Fisayo Akinade as Mason (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Amazing projections take us back to 343 AD and a knight with long hair and a broad sword (Tadhg Murphy).  It is no wonder that the Royal Court has told us to unsettle into our seats. McDowall’s knight is called Haster, not a million miles away from Lord Hastur a dark lord who features in poems, novels and computer games. 

The Appendix in the text is essential reading for anyone wanting to know more of what Alistair McDowall’s sources were for The Glow.  A 1928 book called The Woman in Time by Dorothy Waites describes finding pictures of women in paintings lit by a mysterious glow.  She maintained that these were illustrations of women, a symbol, a comment on that age, “A kind of social thermometer”.  Interest in it has become something of a cult combining mythology and witchcraft. 

In 1348, Haster in chainmail and we switch with projections to 1979 where Evan (Fisayo Akinade) in a library is exploring the “glowing” female figures in history and mythology and explains them to the Woman now named Brooke.  The mysterious woman is personified as Joan of Arc, the Lady of the Lake and Margaret of Anjou and others.  Presumably we could add Florence Nightingale for her idiosyncratic glow!

Part of the magic is Marie Hensel’s dark imposing set and Jessica Hung Han Yun’s eerie lighting.  Tai Rosner’s video designs are magnificent between scenes like enhanced, penetrating static interference with terrifying sound from Nick Powell. 

The Glow is a work of imagination and needs an audience willing to engage with the ethereal. 

Tadhg Murphy as Haster and Ria Zmitrowicz as Brooke (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Production Notes

The Glow
Written by Alistair McDowall

Directed by Vicky Featherstone



Fisayo Akinade

Rakie Ayola

Tadhg Murphy

Ria Zmitrowicz


Director: Vicky Featherstone

Designer: Marie Hensel

Movement Design: Malik Nashad Sharp

Lighting Designer: Jessica Hung Han Yun

Composers and Sound Designer: Nick Powell

Video: Tai Rosner

Fight Director: Bret Yount


Running Time:Two hours with one interval

Booking to 5th March 2022


Jerwood Theatre Downstairs

Royal Court Theatre

Sloane Square

London SW1W 4AS

Phone: 020 7565 5000


Tube: Sloane Square

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the

Royal Court

on 27th January 2022