Ferment Fortnight: THE DEVIL’S MISCHIEF – Neil Paris | SMITH Dancetheatre

What is the show about?.. I am asking myself that same question. The work is in a process of redevelopment and to be honest, defining and narrowing things down too much at this point is something I am trying to avoid but the current strap-line is that it’s a story about right and wrong and where we stand in it all.

The idea for the show emerged around the time of the Millennium when a friend gave me a small but beautiful book by Ed Marquand called The Devil’s Mischief. It’s full of great stories and pictures by different writers and artists which put the Devil’s side of the story and kind of adds up to the Devil saying it wasn’t all his fault. I carried the book around for years collecting ideas and bits and pieces of material and began to work on it in 2012 for the Place Prize for Dance.

I began with the image of a person sat in a corner wearing a dunces cap. Working with Sarah Lewis and Bristol based dance artist Laura Dannequin we developed this into a duet based around a dualistic relationship between God and The Devil where they were like two naughty twins, set in opposition to each other but ultimately in need of each other. This, alongside a hundred dunce’s caps, some extravagant lighting by Aideen Malone and live video mixing by Dan Tombs led to a conceptual and visually striking performance. Though it was artistically pleasing for me, it was quite a closed experience for the audience, there wasn’t a clear enough entry point into the work so it was hard for them to engage emotionally or go on any kind of journey and ultimately I found this unsatisfying.

So I let the piece stew for a bit and came back to it briefly last October. I’d decided I wanted to open the work up and that if this piece is to do with God and The Devil I should stop messing about and put them in it. This would set a clearer context for the audience and also give me licence to employ some bold theatricality. I went back into the studio for a couple of days along with Sarah Lewis and Neil Callaghan, who I’d met on Dan Canham’s Ours Was The Fen Country to see how we might do this without resorting to wearing horns and a long white beard. We danced and sung together, messed around with the hats again, tried out some music and sketched out some movement vocabulary.

It felt like the right way to go and so as it stands the space is populated by The Devil, God,The Imps, loads of Dunces hats, a step ladder, a fairly populist soundtrack and some make-up inspired by Strictly Baby Disco.

There’s a bunch of quasi-philosophical questions feeding the work which include the desire and need for reconciliation between opposing forces; the need for balance; the loneliness and isolation that might come from adopting extreme positions and views; the twin joys of temptation and of destruction. It references the ideas of the fallen angel and the flawed genius and questions our apparent need to create gods and monsters in order to provide a framework to judge our own actions. People being banished, labelled and cast out is in there too as well as the belief that we all possess the potential for good and evil, we are God and we are The Devil.

The big challenge now is to find out how to boil this all down into something tangible and tasty for an audience, which is why it was so great to get the call from Emma inviting us to come down to Ferment, put something out there and get some responses.

I kind of imagine a scenario where God and The Devil are bored witless, stuck in roles they possibly never wanted and really just want to swap or play with each other for a while.With them are two Imps who are in a kind of purgatory and yet to decide which path to take.

Stylistically I’m hoping that by moving between theatre, dance and music I can find a language that is available to a wide, uninitiated audience but is not too literal or mimetic, doesn’t have too many words in it and leaves space for the imagination to play.

I think the natural home for may work is in theatre spaces but we recently did a Live Art event in the bar of Norwich Arts Centre as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival and it went down really well. It was good fun to do as well, so who knows, maybe the work has more than one incarnation, perhaps it can change and mischievously morph into different, unexpected things, Satan would probably like that.

Neil Callaghan can’t make it to Ferment and I have the impossible task of stepping into his shoes on the night. So It’ll be me and Sarah and the sharing may be pretty rough and ready but we aim to make it an interesting and entertaining half-hour or so which people can engage with and feedback on.

The Devil’s Mischief
Neil Paris | SMITH dancetheatre
Bristol Old Vic Studio
Wed 9 Jul, 8.15pm



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