Pros: Visually strong with lots of tongue-in-cheek humour.
Cons: The props and set are not used to their full potential.
Lost Dog’s Paradise Lost, the first in a series of ‘genre busting’ works shown at Battersea Arts Centre and The Place, shows that “refuse to be categorised as theatre or dance”.
The performance begins with an introduction, some jokes and a reading of the end of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. Ben Duke, the performer and conceiver of the show, presents this as a disclaimer in case he doesn’t manage to get to the end. This is as much of Milton’s poem as you will hear. From this point on the show is entirely Duke’s own interpretation, re-telling and physical performance of Milton’s text, including a moment where God and Lucifer exchange numbers in a nightclub. It’s very much this kind of fun, tongue-in-cheek humour that drives the performance.
The main story is offset with a number of scenes of family life which help to ground the epic narrative, bringing personal poignancy to an otherwise lighthearted show. I’m not sure whether these stories are autobiographical; they could well be, though probably embellished a little!
Although this is a one man show, there were definitely two performers in the space on the night and a misbehaving set added many unplanned moments of humour. This worked very much in favour of the piece as the various items that (unintentionally) fell from the rigging throughout, seemed to punctuate the many moments of ironic humour. Rather than ignore the mishaps, the performer skillfully incorporates them into the work. Part of me actually hopes that these happy accidents continue to happen during the show’s upcoming run at the Edinburgh Fringe.
The piece was presented in the Council Chambers with a shallow performance area and fairly steep tiered seating, providing some great views onto the performance space. The set is fairly simple, a large white circle, a chair, a bundle of branches, rope, chickpeas and a bit of water. Though simple, sometimes the objects felt a little self-indulgent, with one particularly large item being introduced to the space, used once and never revisited. Personally, I think this is a shame as I like to see performers get maximum use out of their props, especially when playing with such a lovely simple aesthetic.
There is a fine line between irony and apology in this piece and I sometimes felt as though the performer was apologising for, rather than embracing the DIY aesthetic. However, when simple visual tools, such as shadow play were embraced and given room to breathe, the performance was touching and beautiful. I could have happily sat and watched Lucifer fall to earth for the full nine days.
This is a good show with plenty of humour, beautiful visual moments and a few poignant touches to bring it all together. I truly hope it does well at Edinburgh.
Director: Ben Duke
Producer: Emily Gorrod-Smith, Lost Dog
Booking until: Premiered at Battersea Arts Centre on 26 and 27 May 2015