Girth Radio Presents…
My decision to go see Paradise Lost was based on a few factors. Firstly, it was a patron’s pick at this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival, and was all-round well received. Next, I love classics and I like to see how they are reinterpreted for the theatre. Finally, the event page warned that the play contains puppet nudity and I thought, that’ll be funny.
While I appreciate the artistry in puppetry, I’ve never been particularly drawn to it.
A large part of my love for theatre lies in the collaboration that it requires. And while puppetry requires a great series of skills, the lack of interaction between different actors can mean that the collaboration isn’t as visible as it is in a traditional stage show (although it still very much exists). But puppets are having their moment in the light, with Broadway shows like Avenue Q and the upcoming Melissa McCarthy movie The Happytime Murders using puppets, somewhat crudely, to make audiences laugh. So I thought, why not?
When the lights went down and the production of Paradise Lost began, however, I was given a very quick reminder. The story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden is hardly a comedy. I’d built my own expectations around this show because the term “puppet nudity” screamed humorous to me, but there were no details to back up my assumption that this rendition of Paradise Lost would be a satire.
The performance was actually a one-man show, directed, performed and modified for the stage by Paul Van Dyck. The stage was set fairly simply, with two large white curtains draping from ceiling to floor, and a table in the centre upon which the puppet action occurred. The drapes created beautiful imagery, being used as angelic wings, and also having visual effects projected onto them to give form to fiery devils.
The task of cutting down Milton’s poem into a 60-minute play is one I can’t even imagine taking on, but the narrative was concise and complete at the same time. Van Dyck uses mixed medias and a series of theatrical tools to creatively stage a classic, mixing live action, puppetry and projections to show how different manifestations of theatre can work together to create a different sort of collaboration. Paradise Lost at this year’s Fringe Festival displayed how theatre creates its own rules and forced viewers to think about how different aspects of performance interact.
I left the show contemplating a lot, and for me it was less so about heaven and hell, and more about creative license. Good art should always make you think, and Paradise Lost certainly accomplished that for me. And as an added feat, it opened my mind to new possibilities, because I can honestly say that I never thought there would come a day when I would watch puppets have sex and not feel that laughter is an appropriate response.
For more on Paradise Lost check out the Fringe website.