THE DEVILS: Director Isher Sahota reveals his inspirations

Dominic Chambers as Grandier in THE DEVILS. The play features lighting design by Jamie Macdonald. Photo credit: Isher Sahota.

This week, The King’s Players are putting on John Whiting’s THE DEVILS, made iconic in the 1971 Ken Russell epic dystopian film. Director Isher Sahota shares his inspirations, talks Ken Russell and King’s and praises King’s acting talent.

The film was a big inspiration when choosing the play. It had a great effect on me – I was completely blown away by the extreme nature of the content but also the high art tone of it. The film is beautifully crafted but describes so much violence and horror. This really interested me. I also found it very harrowing, Grandier’s impending death is so upsetting for the last third of the movie, and that sense of inevitability was very moving and distressing. I was also drawn to the nuns – the relationship between religious devotion and sexual obsession (especially in Christianity) has always fascinated me, ever since I saw the sculpture ‘The ecstasy of St Teresa’ in the Vatican. I thought it was so weird how in the most holy place for Catholics there’s just a statue of a lady in the throngs of a toe-curling orgasm. I think when you tell humans not to do the one thing they are biologically supposed to on earth (have sex and reproduce) your sexuality tends to manifest itself in very odd ways.

What also inspired me about the movie was its flamboyance. Ken Russell made it OK for English filmmakers/artists to do flamboyance and extravagance. Till then British cinema had been all about kitchen-sink realism, and all the arty stuff was left to Italians like Fellini and Pasolini. The Devils is stylised, choreographed, and heavily art directed (by king’s alumnus Derek Jarman) – which has given the production team a lot of inspiration for the aesthetic. One of Jarman’s ideas which was so crucial and amazing in the film is that he wanted the city walls to look modern and cutting edge. He didn’t care that they were completely a-historical but thought they should look modern to contemporary audiences because that’s how they would’ve seemed in 1634. So instead of mossy old brick walls that we always see in historical films we get modern white blocks. This gives the film an almost futuristic, dystopian feel that we’ve latched on to in our production.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relevance of doing ‘The Devils’ now. And I don’t really know. I don’t think ‘The Devils’ is a play against religion, or against Catholicism. I think it’s warning against the manipulation of religion by men, and the dangers of combining politics and religion. I also think it’s  bigger than that – it’s about oppressive regimes in general. Also, it’s interesting how just this year Derek Jarman’s photo was taken down from the Strand windows to be replaced by former KCLSU president Ryan Wain, as reported in Roar! Plus, there’s now a campaign to have Lord Carey, another King’s alum and bishop, removed from the same windowpane. Strange timing that just at the time of the production of ‘The Devils’, the art director of the film, a great film-maker and campaigner for gay rights, was removed, whilst this Christian dude who’s just said some pretty funky stuff about gay marriage remains. And it’s all to do with King’s.

One more thing: I chose it for the actors at King’s. I’d been involved with drama last year and knew the talent was here to pull it off. I’d seen very brave acting in pieces, and thought that if they were given something really extreme, they would be talented enough to take on the challenge. And getting to the late stages of rehearsals it’s becoming a joy to just observe the acting. I’m delighted with the cast. It was very very competitive to get a role, and the standard was very high. They have made directing very easy and in all honesty I haven’t said much to them – their performances are their own.

The Devil’s is a student-run production on this week, Wednesday 12th, Thursday 13th and Friday 14th December at the Greenwood Theatre. £8, £6 concessions. Buy tickets on the door, at KCLSU desks or online here: