Battersea Arts Centre, London; May 26, 2015

Charlotte Kasner

Ben Duke in Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me).  Photo Zoe Manders

Ben Duke in Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me).
Photo Zoe Manders

Having assailed Virginia Woolf, Lost Dog artistic director Ben Duke has now decided to make a foray against that behemoth Milton’s Paradise Lost. Don’t worry if it is not a work that trips off your tongue as this is a thin skate over the work.

Unlike Lappin and Lappinova, Duke decides to tackle this as a one man show. It’s a format fraught with danger and Duke falls into several heffalump traps, not least of which is sustaining a pace that keeps the audience on side.

Paradise Lost has an inherent weakness in that Duke’s character is pathetic and ineffectual, cringing like a dog expecting to be beaten and waiting to thank us for it. He flings himself into bursts of frantic energy from time to time, accompanied by deafeningly loud music and dances like the embarrassing drunken uncle at a wedding. The opening is long and drawn out and it is difficult to sustain sympathy as the audience divide into those who giggle at every contortion of face and hands and those that squirm in uncomfortable silence.

Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me).  Photo Zoe Manders

Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me)
Photo Zoe Manders

When the gags come they tend to be obvious and laboured and each section, be it God making the Earth (twice), or in a bizarre gay relationship with Lucifer that’s more reminiscent of Stone and Parker’s South Park than Milton or the Bible, are drawn out to the point of snapping. Elsewhere, Duke gallops through various biblical stories which don’t seem to be particularly important and the whole thing strays into self-indulgence.

The other major flaw is that Duke’s character is not rooted in any particular place or time. He invites us to empathise with an array of insecurities and relationship failures, either in character as a weird god, Adam, Lucifer or the strange person that is apparently planning the production. He invents one (or is it two?) obnoxious children with whom he often loses his temper and outlines a failed relationship which then apparently recovers but is left in limbo as he sits rambling under a stream of water and the lights dim. In between, chick peas rain onto the stage.

Lacking even a hint of a back story, the audience are left to make up their own minds about what is going on. I decided that he was in an asylum as he had murdered his vile children (can’t say that I blame him) and was fantasising that he was God in Milton’s Paradise Lost. It kept me going until the end at least, although the attention was starting to wane by the end.

At nearly ninety minutes, this is a taxing evening for audience and performer, and one comes away not feeling much. One other tip – don’t sit near the front if you have breathing problems as you will be asphyxiated by the fog juice machine.