Pros: A lively, moving and exceptional piece of theatre.
Cons: The dance elements are not quite as engaging as the theatre elements.
Wilton’s Music Hall is perhaps my favourite venue in London. It’s a building full of history, of promise, of character – and also full of wonderful shows. Their latest offering, Lost Dog’s Paradise Lost (Lies Unopened Beside Me), is a perfect fit for their roster.
Paradise Lost is a one-man dance and theatre show bringing to life John Milton’s epic poem of the same name. The poem describes the fall of man, the story of Adam and Eve, the fallen angel Satan and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden – all of which creator/actor/director Ben Duke ambitiously aims to cover in just seventy-five minutes of dance and theatre. Duke also mixes in modern familial elements, intertwining relatable anecdotes that give the production a current perspective. The result is a tremendous achievement, not just for a one man show, but for any show.
Firstly, Duke is immensely likeable and hilariously funny. He opens with a practised nervousness leading to ice breaking anecdotes, and the audience warm to him immediately. His comic timing is excellent and he’s extremely engaging and a natural storyteller.
The production isn’t just comedy, however; it’s a ride full of genuine emotion. There are moments of elation and side-splitting laugher that beautifully slide into poignant and sombre moments. There are many paradoxes that shouldn’t work in the same production, and yet they sit together wonderfully. When chickpeas rain down on Duke’s head (in place of boulders which, he points out, are more difficult for stage shows) it’s really quite funny. Yet when water pours relentlessly down on him in a monologue of reflection and emotion, the mood is equally sombre and reflective. It’s an impressive gap to bridge.
There’s something equally wonderful about how Duke mixes modern family stories and emotions into this classic piece. We start with our feet comfortably in heaven, but the ‘real-life’ interjections become stronger during the performance and provide a compelling angle for interpretation of the themes in ways the audience can relate to today.
The dance is also enjoyable, and it’s clear that the music chosen for each dance piece is carefully selected and the dance suitably bizarre. However, these pieces seem to last for ever-so-slightly too long, which creates an inadvertent awkwardness. Duke is aware that attention can be gained and lost in minutes – he touches on this in the opening of the piece – so it’s a risk to diverge from his excellent storytelling for as long as he does. However, it is a dance piece as well as a theatre piece, so I do see the necessity of these elements.
Overall, Paradise Lost really is an excellent show. Duke is so engaging, and the stage setting, in all of its simplicity, is fantastic. Clever lighting that creates shadows makes impressive use of the vast empty back wall with its high ceiling and Duke’s choices of props, minimal as they are, are great. The serpent fashioned from a sock is a favourite of mine and makes for a tremendously funny interpretation of the famous scene in the garden of Eden.
Lost Dog are absolutely on to a hit here. There’s some sexual content, some well-placed fig leaves and it should be mentioned that this is not a very, shall we say, traditional approach to religious subject matter – but it’s all the better for it. Go see this.
Original Author: John Milton
Created and Directed By: Ben Duke
Producer: Tessa Howell
Box Office: 020 7702 2789
Booking Link: https://wiltons.org.uk/whatson/171-paradise-lost-lies-unopened-beside-me-
Booking Until: 23 July 2016