Lost Dog was originally formed to create work that crosses the borderline between theatre and dance, and Ben Duke’s one man response to Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost is a fascinating multimedia hybrid that fuses genres, morphing between verbal story telling and physical theatre, stand-up comedy and dance.

The space is defined by a circular white tarpaulin floor with a single wooden chair. In a nondescript grey work suit Duke shambles in with a well thumbed paperback of Milton. His self-deprecating gently shambolic opening apologia addressing the audience is comically at odds with the apparent grandiosity of his ambition, and sets up a portrayal of God refreshingly and provocatively different from the notion of all powerful deity; initially diffident, uncertain, fumbling and having second thoughts. Beyond reading of an initial brief extract (a spoiler revealing the final moments) Duke’s copy of Paradise Lost does indeed lie unopened as he tells in his own words the great story of making the world, the revolt of Lucifer and the rebel angels, the reconstruction of Paradise and the Garden of Eden, the creation and fall into temptation of Adam and Eve. Just as the performance shifts between expressive genres, so does the story telling style shift between fantastic epic and everyday modern life and manners, drawing on Duke’s own life experiences and creative struggles as a dance-maker and crucially a parent to reflect God’s fractious relationships with first Lucifer and then Adam and Eve.

One man interpreting a huge work; echoing this impossible task there is throughout a satisfying play of shifting scale and perspectives between large and small, ludicrous and serious, the homemade economy of the simplest theatrical means constantly undermining intellectual or artistic pretension and the grand gestures implicit in a selection of iconic music tracks. The audience are asked to shut their eyes for Duke to prepare for God’s laborious initial descent down a rope to the space, a tiny spark of triumph visible in Duke’s face as he arrives at the ground on cue. Boulders hurled in battle become a sparse pattering shower of chick peas from on high, a recurring design theme of objects dropping from above culminating finally in a devastating and continuous downpour which drenches Duke to the skin. In his portrayal of God’s increasingly manic processes of construction Duke’s movement ranges from intricacy of mechanistic gesture and loose-kneed disintegration to exaggerated violence reinforced by effortful sounds. Shedding shirt and trousers to reveal his vulnerability in a flesh all in one complete with fig leaf, Duke’s account of Adam’s dance is minimally sketched and earnestly explained, a comic and knowing insider’s poke at contemporary dance makers. But it is not all irony as Duke plumbs darker depths. A week after the terrorist attacks in Paris his depiction of the great battle in an urban setting with explosions and falling bodies in slow motion had a chilling resonance; his anatomising of parental anxiety similarly touched chords of empathy.

Hard to categorise this performance. Does that matter? As an imaginative, intelligent and immediate contemporary tribute to a great work it was both moving and entertaining.

Susie Crow

20th November 2015

You can read Susie’s review of Lost Dog’s Like Rabbits previously at the North Wall here

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