Review: Lost Dog - Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me) - Battersea Arts Centre

Performance: 26 & 27 May 2015
Reviewed by Siobhan Murphy - Friday 29 May 2015

Ben Duke in Lost Dog's 'Paradise Lost'. Photo: Zoe Manders

Performance reviewed: 27 May

Lost Dog’s latest unclassifiable work appears at the battle-scarred Battersea Arts Centre as part of a two-week collaboration between this venue and The Place, intended as a way to find a home for pieces that ‘refuse to be categorised’ as either theatre or dance.

Ben Duke and Raquel Meseguer’s work as Lost Dog has often teetered between the two: the last, Like Rabbits, was a clever, effective and affecting rethink of a Virginia Woolf short story, where the movement felt integral to the telling of the tale.

For Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me), Duke performs solo. He has a winningly charismatic stage presence, starting out with much modest shuffling and claims that this is an unfinished work. Certainly, it needs its intimate setting, relying as it does on rough-around-the-edges charm and a direct audience connection, as deliberate silliness turns increasingly to painful confessional.

Milton’s epic poem (as the title’s parenthesis suggests) ends up as battered as the dog-eared copy Duke clutches: in this telling, God and Lucifer swap numbers in a nightclub one evening, before moving in together; and the pitched battle in Paradise involves showers of chick peas (standing in for Heavenly boulders), much dry ice and loud Handel music.

Duke has fun with the Christian creation myth, drawing on a palette of cartoonishly exaggerated movement and, when it comes to crafting Adam, a range of squelchy self-generated sound effects that make him appear more Dr Frankenstein than Heavenly Father. But amid the ensuing amusement wrought from fig leaves and intentionally missed cues, he starts shaping the narrative into a more personal creation story, imagining God’s stresses and fears as like his own as a partner and parent and, in the spirit of Milton, prodding at the basic humanity of the Greatest Story Ever Told.

The interplay of ideas is not always sufficiently fluid (but that may well develop) and the joints between theatre and dance are rather exposed and rough-hewn – it feels more as though we have movement ‘interludes’ rather than truly integral danced elements here – but Duke lets enough vulnerability play amid the droll humour to gain your sympathies and keep your attention for the show’s 80 minutes and creates a memorable finale that sees him standing drenched and defiant.

Catch Lost Dog’s Paradise Lost in Pulse Festival, Ipswich on 1 June and at the Edinburgh Fringe as part of The Place at Summerhall in August.

Photos: Zoe Manders

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