The Montmartre Dionysia III – Of Honeyed Words But Evil Mind

Evan LaFlamme, Peter Deaves, and Alice Brace in Chris Newens' Tortoise, from the first Montmartre Dionysia.

The Montmartre Dionysia is a biannual, English-language theatre competition, currently gearing up for its third edition. From the 1st-6th December four plays – chosen from thirty entrants – will compete against each other, amid a week of other theatrical delights. Chris Newens explains where the idea came from and how it has grown…

“I want to put on an English language theatre festival in Paris,” Albert said.
“Fantastic idea,” I replied. “And it should be a competition.”
“You’re right, that’d make it more interesting.”
“And we should call it a Dionysia. The Montmartre Dionysia!”
“The Montmartre what?” said Albert.
“Dionysia,” I said.

Once upon a time, in Ancient Greece, the story goes, the Eleuthereans gifted a wooden statue of Dionysus, everyone’s favourite goodtime god, to the city of Athens. However, the Athenians did not welcome the statue with the ceremony it deserved, so, naturally, Dionysus cursed them. He inflicted all the town’s men with satyrism -- a pathological condition of permanent arousal, which sounds fun but almost certainly isn’t. And so, to cure themselves of persistent erection, the Athenians decided to throw a whole festival in Dionysius’ honour, thus the Dionysia was born.

“Why would we want to name our festival after the ceremonial equivalent of a cold shower?” Albert asked.
“Because…” I said, “because…”

Never has theatre been more important than it was at the Dionysia. Competition between comedies and tragedies was the central event of the festival; and come plague, come famine, come war, the whole city would still turn out to watch. Plays were sponsored by large groups of the citizenry, who took to the stage as choruses, while professional actors and playwrights went toe-to-toe, script-to-script, battling for theatrical glory. There was also ritual wine drinking… and orgies.

“I’m sold,” Albert said.

*** ***

That conversation happened over a year ago. It seemed like an offhand thing at the time, the sort of excitable chat friends have on midweek evenings that gets forgotten after the fourth glass of beer. But since then, we’ve staged two Dionysias, and are currently at full tilt on the third. And despite it’s hard to remember name – that’s Dionysia (Die-oh-nice-ee-a) – the festival has done nothing but grow.

Theatre goers enjoy Paris during the interval aboard the Alternat.

The first Dionysia – Against Our Will Comes Widsom – was just a single night of theatre held aboard the Alternat péniche, moored just down from the Institut du Monde Arabe, while the second – A Lie Never Lives to Be Old – straddled a whole week’s worth of performances, with each competition play, backed by warm-up sketches, also getting its own night in Montmartre’s Petit Théâtre du Bonheur.

Now, for the third festival – Of Honeyed Words But Evil Mind – we are hosting an off competition too. From the 1st-6th December this year a total of twelve plays are being staged. The four competition pieces will be joined by more warm-up acts, plays from previous festival participants, a couple of Harold Pinter shorts, and a one-off event Forget the Applause, where come the final curtain the audience will be invited to bite back.

It will still end on the boat, of course – indeed, there are now going to be two waterborne nights – and the Saturday final (after the tears and joy of prize giving) will finish with a party that will continue into the early hours (ritual wine drinking and orgies optional).

Further details and the program for this year’s festival can be found here. Tickets can be reserved by emailing

Helena Farhi and Eliza McCoy in White Flame Dancing, written by Alberto Rigettini, directed by Peter Brown.