Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me)
Brilliant dance theatre ode to the clumsy and crushing art of creation
This article is from 2015.
For many a graduate of English Literature, the idea of anything based on Paradise Lost sends shivers up the spine. It seems outrageously ambitious to turn it into a work of contemporary dance theatre. But there isn’t a scrap of arrogance here, and Lost Dog’s one-man piece distils Milton’s lofty, allusion-packed poem into beautiful parcels of everyday life with warmth, intelligence and huge compassion for anyone who has ever tried to create anything.
Throughout the show performer (and creator) Ben Duke gets under the skin of this bizarre human urge, giving us God and Lucifer the home-makers, sharing the anxieties of parenthood, and tenderly sending up the way we embellish ourselves when faced with someone we want to impress. His God starts out with all the clumsiness of the optimist, an innocent who has never known failure when he bustles about the stage thumping together heaven like bits of clay. Later, his take on establishing flawed humans through a well-meaning Adam, who ruins his own entry dance, is brilliantly heart-warming.
If this makes it all sound too gentle and whimsical, it’s not. By humanising God, Duke offers us a mirror to our own failures when it all goes wrong. He offers us the chance to collude in creation too, inviting us to use our imagination when chickpeas fall from the sky in lieu of boulders, and by the time he builds to a sobering climax – the vision of Adam and Eve’s future blending with contemporary allusions – you can see it, and it is crushing.
The scale of Duke’s ideas is overwhelming, yet he sews them together so deftly you could be listening to a friend tell an anecdote; it is a remarkable piece and makes Milton’s tale feel more immediately relevant than a literature lecture ever could.
Summerhall, 560 1581, until 30 Aug (not 16, 18, 24), 2.40pm, £12 (£10).