Posted by: Kevan Manwaring | November 17, 2011

The Devil has All the Best Tunes

The Devil has All the Best Tunes

Tim Curry in devilish form in Legend

It might be a truism to suggest that old Nick could belt ’em out, as it were, but it seems to be often the case. Last week I took my lady to a great show at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham – The Wild Bride, by the ever-wonderful Knee-High Theatre company. This kinetic production of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, The Handless Maiden, was physical theatre at is best, mixed in with some mean tunes…played by no less than the Lord of the Flies himself. Imaginatively transferred to the Thirties’ dystopia of Dust Bowl America – the stuff of Steinbeck – the Devil appears in the ‘nick of time’ to offer riches to a man down on his luck, in exchange for not his soul but whatever happened to be in his backyard … which turns out to be his beloved daughter. The Devil, brilliantly played by Stu McLoughlin, in an inversion of the classic Robert Johnson ‘creation myth’ (the lowdown an’ dirty granpappy of bluesmen, who claimed he sold his soul to the Devil at the crossroads in exchange for the gift of playing a guitar) is a Bluesman, playing his geetar cockily on a rocking chair and singing with a seductively good voice. His oldtime classic tunes (in the manner of ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’?) provide a wry Greek Chorus and kickass soundtrack throughout the show, which becomes very Tim Burton-like (the unlucky daughter loses her hands, but she is fashioned some out of metal by a Prince – from an old rake and a billhook). Three actresses play the handless maiden at different stages of her life – (The Girl: Audrey Brisson; The Woman: Éva Magyar; The Wild: Patricia Kujawska) each bringing their exceptional gifts and physical presence: a voice, fiddle-playing, dance. The feckless father becomes a gay Gordon-like Scotsman – Stuart Goodwin – hilariously prancing around in his kilt and Mr Magoo specs. The Devil is cheated of his prize – and so he moves onto to … ‘someone else!’ The show ends, the lights go up. The magic lingers. Professional theatre is dazzling to experience. It is such a tonic to be taken outside of yourself – and to experience it right before your eyes, live on stage, performed for you. In a world saturated by virtual experiences, a CGI-version of reality, it makes for a refreshing change. Such entertainments empowers, rather than disempowers, the individual – making them a participant rather than a couch-potato consumer, popcorn zombies.

Carrying on the devilish theme, this year sees the centenary of the publication of Ambrose Bierce’s wickedly witty classic, The Devil’s Dictionary. Originally entitled The Cynic’s Word Book, it was retitled and published in 1911. Addressed to ‘enlightened souls who prefer dry wines to sweet, sense to sentiment, wit to humour and clean English to slang,’ it is full of deliciously ironic definitions. Among my favourite are:

Alcohol, n. (Arabic al khol, a paint for the eyes) The essential principal of all such liquids as give a man a black eye.

Fib, n. A lie that has not cut its teeth.

Language, n. The music with which we charm the serpents guarding another’s treasure.

Love, n. The folly of thinking much of another before one knows anything of oneself.

Namby Pamby, adj. Having the quality of magazine poetry. See Flummery.

Noncombatant, n. A dead Quaker

Novel, n. A short story padded.

Once, adj. Enough

Resign, v. A good thing to do when you are going to be kicked out.

Scribbler, n. A professional writer whose views are antagonistic to one’s own.

Self, n. The most important person in the universe. See Us.

Selfish, adj. Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.

Year, n. A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments.

Bierce’s definitions have inspired me to start concocting my own. There is a perverse pleasure to be gleaned from reverse logic. Here are some composed (at the Witching Hour last night):

A Lesser Demon’s Dictionary

Writer, n. Someone who takes longer to write than anyone else.

School, n. A place where you do not learn anything.

Pupil, n. A young person prone to look at anything except the smartboard.

Smartboard, n. A device for showing others how dumb they are.

Government, n. An institution for those who cannot rule themselves, who lack common sense and a social conscience.

Money, adj. A fleeting quality. (n) a mythic, outmoded metaphor bearing no relation to wealth.

Freedom, n. The liberty to impose on others harsh laws.

Mobile Phone, n. An instrument for torturing others within a confined space.

Bank, n. A place where your money is not safe.

The Economy, n. A system for the mismanagement of the country’s wealth.

Eurozone, n. A region of mutual impoverishment.

Entertainer, n. Someone who finds it difficult to relate to people on a normal level.

Celebrity, n. A person who is famous for being devoid of talent.

Biker, n. A middle-aged wannabe rebel – often very conservative and traditional in their views.

Punk, n. Angry old men, prone to ejecting saliva.

Hippy, n. A New Age capitalist.

Infant, n. A baby elephant.

Adult, n. A single dult.

I highly recommend this activity. It is a guaranteed way of making yourself laugh, and others not to.

To balance things out – I have been thoroughly enjoying Martin Scorsese’s superb documentary about George Harrison: Living in the Material World. It explores his spiritual quest as much as his career – the two are linked of course, as he expressed, through his sublime music, his deep response to life and the dilemmas it faces. How to be ‘in the world, but not of it’. The Cathar heresy was that the Devil was in fact the ruler of the World – and it is easy enough to believe that these days. It’s a good job he’s a Hell of a good showman. Cue: Sympathy for the Devil…

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